I was in a house where some teenagers (majority of them were African-American) were gossiping loudly in my mother’s room. When I went in, I saw a couple of them rifling through my mother’s jewelry box. They stopped gossiping and started to pray – pretending that that’s what they were doing the whole time. When I told them that I heard them gossiping – they denied it and said that they were just praying.
I looked at the jewelry box to see if they had taken anything – but I couldn’t tell. Then I went into my dark room and decided that I wanted to change rooms.
I went through the house and found a light and airy room – which was opened out to the driveway in a country setting. I didn’t mind that it was open – but I saw that the bed had a lot of dead insects where the pillows were supposed to be.
In the dream – I thought that I normally wouldn’t mind the insects, but I didn’t want that bed.
THEMES: Gossip, praying, lies, desire for change, dead bugs, light vs dark.
SYMBOLS: Jewelry box, dark vs light, bed, bugs, outdoors
EMOTIONS: Annoyance, suspicion, yearning for illumination
ARCHETYPES: Teenagers – African-American, Mother (not present)
INTERPRETATION: This is quite personal – suffice it to say that I have issues with my mother stemming from my childhood and the fact that she wasn’t present in person signifies her absence in my life. The gossiping teenagers – especially being African-American – symbolize the childish side of my mother (she is dark) and the fact that others are joining in on the gossip. When I questioned what they were doing, they lied and said that they were praying – which represents her trying to present herself as blameless and pure.
Worrying about what was taken from her jewelry box denotes a fear of the precious things about her – or the hidden treasures that I fear will be stolen from her, therefore me.
The desire to get out of my small, dark bedroom represents my yearning for escape from guilt, or repressed memories. In dreams, the bedroom usually symbolizes the sexual side of yourself – but I feel that it indicates my yearning for openness, freedom and a lighter or even illuminated life. With the new room being open to the elements – it shows how I want to open up into the world and step out of the darkness. (This also represents my public persona and desire to ‘meld’ with others and join the crowd – after having deliberately stayed in the shadows for so long.)
The dead bugs in the bed could represent old, little things that should be of no consequence now. Things like old arguments, bad memories and outdated or unnecessary elements in regards to how I cling to the past. The fact that I didn’t mind them so much – shows how I might still harbor resentments (which I do!) – or how those things still plague me. The fact that I decided I didn’t want that bed – due to the bugs – indicates that I finally want to move on.
SUMMARY: Time to bury the hatchet and move on. I must remember the good things and not dwell on the bad. It’s time to be more honest and open. I need to get “out there” and get amongst it.
Looking over my lists of memories that I’d like to write about, I realized that I hadn’t included things such as items I loved, or food I enjoyed, music I got into, my heroes and so on. Then I thought – I don’t want this memoir to become the written version of a hoarders show! However – I can’t resist ‘cataloging’ these things, along with the events and people in my life, as they do contribute to the building blocks of who I have become. (My brain is weary after a long week at my tiresome job – so please forgive my grammar slippings and stunted creativity! I will endeavor to polish these turds when I end up actually putting this memoir together!)
The above picture is of a Scandinavian Elf that was hanging up in the lounge room when I was a child. You can see the name ‘Sassi’ down the bottom, and that’s what I called him. Of course, when I was young, I thought he was real and for some reason assumed he was related to my mystical mountain that I always dreamed about. Through the divorces of my parents, growing up etc, Sassi disappeared, but one day, I was shopping online (Etsy) and found him! Naturally, I paid the minimal price they were asking and received the wall hanging in the mail a week later. I’m such a child – but I had to have it! Getting older means harking back to the old days and reminiscing (which I’m doing a hell of a lot of these days), and yearning for the things that meant a lot to you. I don’t need lots of expensive jewelry or ugly over-priced handbags! Give me books, music, movies and nostalgia and I’m as happy as a pig in shit!
What with political correctness and health officials (rightfully so, I suppose) doing their best to keep children safe and healthy, candy cigarettes are a no-no these days. But when I was a kid they were all the rage and they had little red tips at the end to make it look like you were actually smoking a lit cigarette. I remember walking around like Lady Muck with my friends, talking like what we thought were grown women, saying things like “Oh yes, you know..I agree..!” and so on, with haughty voices and tapping the imaginary ash.
If I had a daughter I would never have bought her toys like this! Sexist horror – but I do remember my little iron with the cord and the suction cup at the end, which would stick on the wall. When mum ironed I would set mine up and do the dolls clothes alongside her.
It was always special to find a nest – and even more special to find an egg! The adults would always tell us to stay away from them in case we got ‘bird lice’. I never got ‘bird lice’. I also collected feathers, leaves, gum nuts, seed pods, skulls, rocks, shells and anything else I could get my hands on.
We all loved butter! This memory goes hand in hand with blowing the dandelions and making wishes, making daisy chains, looking for fairy rings made out of toadstools, playing in sticklegrass and so on.
Everyone’s breath smelled like licorice. They were hard but after a while they would get chewy and gooey.
Where did Strawberry Pops go?! I loved having these for breakfast.
You never saw her face.
I wanted the Bionic Woman to be my mother! I fantasized about it all the time. Those were the years when things at home were getting worse. I either wanted to run away and live with Lindsay Wagner or be her!
I loved her music and loved her. I wanted to be her too!
Like most youngsters in the seventies – especially in Australia – I was smitten by ABBA. My friends and I would pretend to be them and mime their songs. Everyone fought over who would be Agnetha and I was always supposed to be Frida! (She was just as good though!)
I made so many of these. So ironic that the answers were deliberately written according to the desired results!
This was magic to me! I preferred playing with this, rather than going to real ballet lessons. I was no good and later, when I went to Jazz ballet, I realized I was no good at that either. I like Homer Simpson’s response to dancing “It’s the lowest form of communication!” Ha ha! I remember when my cousin and I would be dropped off to the lessons and the sign said “Private Road”. We used to giggle, imagining girls’ private parts jumping around everywhere. I also remember the snobby girls and their equally snobby mothers, who would stick their noses up in the air when we’d walk in. The snobby girls would walk like Charlie Chaplin and I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get why they thought they were so good.
These dolls were great fun, as they had a button in their backs that you pushed to make their hair grow. Then you’d wind it back up.
Simple – but they would keep me out of trouble for a long time!
I had a heap of them. My mother still collects them! You’d swap between your friends and collect series of them.
I have a lot of fun memories of drive ins – as a child as well as a teenager! The ones I would go to had swings and playgrounds down the front and it was safe enough for us kids to go and play before the movie started, or if we got bored and the parents kicked us out of the car!
Loved him – for a while.
There are far too many more but I’ll attempt them at another time.
I’ve been spreading myself thin lately – the usual juggling act that is particularly annoying for writers, what with the day job, daily ministrations, working on other writing projects and so on. A novel I’m currently toying with (a surreal, Young adult story) is growing arms and legs, so it’s taking center stage at the moment, however – last night I had one of my flashes as I tossed and turned, in regards to my memoir.
I wondered how it would be to write about some of my stories along the theme of water – or any other theme. I assume we all have these themes in our lives. For example, we all have tree stories, beach stories, holiday stories, school stories etc. The flash I had included all the memories that involved water, for some reason, and I decided that when I got up this morning, I would write them out and see how they panned out. So here they are, in random order, for me to organize at a later date, when I decide to actually put all this into a book!
The two most profound water memories I have involve saving both my brothers from drowning, at two separate incidents. The first one was when I was twelve years old and my brother Lucas was ten. We were at Seaspray which is known as the Ninety mile beach in Victoria, Australia. My Aunty Doris (who was the lady who kind of adopted my mum for holidays when she was a child, being brought up in the home) owned the holiday house there and had rented it to my mother for two weeks. I discovered later that mum had taken my brothers and I there after a fight with my stepfather.
There was no television but there was a radio and a ping pong table as well as the beautiful beach across the road. Mum thought that we were going to drive her nuts without a t.v. (I was twelve, Lucas was ten and Peter was eight) – but we spent most of our time exploring the beach, playing ping pong and catching blue tongue lizards. When you came out the front door you could see the hummocks (or hills) that were at least fifteen feet high and covered with long grasses. Every now and then there are tracks leading to the beach and once you get to the top you hear the roar of the ocean.
I spent a lot of time on my own writing and this particular day, I was sitting on the beach writing as Lucas went out into the water on an inner tube from a truck. He was sitting in the middle of it, slowly drifting further out. After a while I stood up and yelled at him “Lucas, you’re too far out!” He yelled back “Far out, far out!” doing peace signs in the air with his hands. I yelled again to come back, more urgent now as he was fast becoming a dot on the horizon. “You’re too far out, come back!” I strained my eyes to see him and realized that I could only see the inner tube floating to the right, without him on it. All of a sudden I saw him burst up from the water in the distance and I heard a blood curdling scream.
I froze for a split second but then it was like my primal brain took over. I dove into the water and started making my way towards him. The waves were at least four feet so I had to stop every now and then to see where he was. He was still struggling and dipping below the surface, his arms flailing wildly and then disappearing every now and then. After what seemed like an eternity I reached him and of course he latched onto me, grabbing at me frantically. I remembered something I had seen on t.v. about drowning people who ended up drowning the people who were trying to save them and that was definitely what nearly happened to me. He kept grabbing me around my neck and climbing over me, pushing me under the water.
Eventually I slapped his face and screamed at him to stop it and to turn on his back and go limp so I could take us both back to the shore. Luckily he did as he was told and I was able to wrap my arm around his face and under his arm. Using my other arm I swam us both back, carefully, telling him to help by kicking his legs. When we got back, a final wave dumped him thunderously onto the sand, as though to punish him for being an idiot. It made his tank top come up over his head and he just sat there for a while, crying. I was so mad I wanted to kick him, but all he could think about was the missing tire tube and how our Uncle would be pissed!
The other time was a few years later when I was fifteen and my younger brother Peter was eleven. We were visiting my mother’s boyfriend at Wonga Park and decided to go for a swim at the Yarra River. Being older, I was a stronger swimmer so I got to the other side first and waited for him, sitting on a rock. As soon as he made it he said “Let’s go again!” and I said “No, wait, you need to catch your breath!” He just laughed and said ‘No I don’t. I’ll beat ya!” With that he jumped back in and started swimming, so I followed. When I got to the other side I turned around and realized that I couldn’t see him. I looked up and down the banks and at the water but couldn’t see him anywhere.
Just like Lucas at the beach, all of a sudden I saw the water break, in the middle of the river and heard an awful scream, with Peter’s arms thrashing about, trying to grab onto something – anything! My guts jumped! Here we go again! So I swam out to him and realized that I had to tell him to calm down so I could get him back to the edge of the river, but he was so panicked that he climbed onto me as soon as I got to him. He got onto my shoulders and pinned me down under the water. Both of his feet were on both of my shoulders! The water was at least ten feet deep and when I tried to buckle my knees to get out from under him, he kept balancing himself and pinning me to the spot.
Every time I got out from under him, and tried to swim back to the surface, he found me and stood back on my shoulders. By this time I was out of air so all I could do was punch and dig my fingers into his ankles with all the strength I had left. This worked and he jumped off. When I got to the surface and caught my breath I had to grab and throw him, swimming up to him and continuing the process until we made it to the banks. I was so mad as he was laughing hysterically and I didn’t know about hysterical laughter so I started slapping and punching him. A couple who had stood by and watched the whole scene pulled me off him and explained that he couldn’t help it but I turned on them, yelling “Why didn’t you help us!?” They just stood there dumbstruck, then walked away quickly.
One more time where I saved someone was my beautiful son Zack, when he was two years old. We were living in the Buddhist commune and one of my duties was cleaning the swimming pool. I had him situated in a section away from the water, playing with his toys. As I walked around the pool, scooping leaves, I turned around to keep an eye on him. Every time I looked at him he was in his little section, playing with his toys. The one time I wasn’t looking, he slipped into the shallow end, without even a ‘plop’. I turned around and didn’t see him. I called his name and he didn’t answer.
I ran back to the section and he wasn’t there. By this time I was hysterical, screaming his name when my eyes were drawn to the water. He was under the surface, his arms and legs outstretched, not moving. I jumped in, my heart frozen, and snatched him up. He laughed and said “I was swimming!” I couldn’t help yelling at him, even though it was my fault. “I told you to stay away from the water!” Then he started crying and I felt like a bag of dog shit. I cried too as I realized what could have happened if I’d been daydreaming or distracted. Needless to say that I watched him like a hawk after that.
One time, at seaspray, when I was around six years old, I nearly drowned in the dip, or what they called ‘the washing machine’. It was a dip about six feet into the water where you could easily get caught if you didn’t know how to swim through it. The waves would tumble in a circle and you could get caught and not know which side was up or down. When it happened to me I thought I was going to die. I remember trying to use my brain and every time my hands felt the sand I’d push upwards but the waves pushed me back down. My equilibrium was in chaos and I was churning around and around.
The adults were oblivious to my plight and by the time I got myself out of it and back onto the shore, vomiting up wet sand and sea water, they laughed and said “You’ll know better next time!” I remember being furious for a long time, feeling uncared for and abandoned, as though I had no-one to rely on when things got dangerous. How ironic, as there were times later on, where I would have to be the one who would save the day!
When I was fifteen, we had a swimming pool in our backyard and had many pool parties over the years. I learned how all of a sudden people would be your friend when summer came and magically they disappeared when it was over, at least until the next summer. One of my mother’s boyfriend’s friends, Lucien, who was an older man, tried to pay me $5 to get in the pool with him and give him a kiss under water. Of course I declined. He was always after me, giving me strange gifts of chocolate or 4711 perfume. Whenever I climbed out of the pool I could feel his eyes on me and it made me uncomfortable, but the other adults respected him as he had lived a charmed life and used to be a strong man in the circus many years before and had met Laurel and Hardy.
It’s funny how, when you’re young and going through puberty, you don’t mind certain people noticing, but others make you self conscious or even worse, they sicken you! Again, at Seaspray – during the time I had saved Lucas from drowning, I was swimming, wearing my red one piece bathing suit, that happened to be see through when wet! A dune buggy came tearing along the beach with three guys in it and they stopped, yelling for me to come out of the water to talk to them. I was scared as I was only twelve years old and had a faint idea what they might’ve wanted. My brothers were being rambunctious, yelling at them to “Fuck off!” but they ignored them and continued asking me to come over and talk to them.
I was polite and said no thanks, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Secretly – I was excited, but fear got the better of me, and I continued to shy away and stayed in the water. In the meantime my brothers had ran back to the house and told my Aunty Doris, who was probably in her sixties at the time. She came over the hummocks, waving her walking stick and yelling angrily, telling them “Leave her alone, she’s only a child!” I was humiliated, but also relieved. As they drove off, yelling obscenities over their shoulders, I stared after them ruefully, thinking to myself that if I’d been older, I might’ve had to guts to talk to them.
One of my favorite pastimes as a child (like most children, I expect) was to play in creeks, causeways, drains etc. There was a lot of exploring to be done and adventures to be had. As my mother and her friends were drinking, we were able to slink away and pretty much do what we wanted, as long as we were back before dark. I especially loved the ones where willow trees hung over them. I would take my notebooks and sit, writing dreamily for hours, as the boys played pirates and so on.
One time, Lucas climbed to the top of one of the willow trees at my stepfather’s place, in Ivanhoe, and jumped onto one of the branches, swinging like an idiot. He yelled out “Look at me! I’m Tarzan!” He did the Tarzan “victory cry of the bull ape” when suddenly there was a “CRACK” and the branch broke, bringing him slamming into the creek! We all laughed so hard. We didn’t dare take him home, drenched and muddy. He just took off his outer clothes and draped them across the grass to dry and continued to play.
Sometimes we would follow the creeks for hours, walking barefoot through the water, pretending we were on a mission to find something elusive. If it got too deep we’d find an old piece of corrugated iron or fiberglass and use it as a raft, or walk along the sides. I’d find pretty rocks, feathers, leaves and flowers and take them home. I remember some days mum would pack us a picnic for the whole day and we’d have a wonderful time, exploring, getting filthy, climbing trees, making friends with random dogs and goats here and there.
I could go on and on but I think I’ll save it for another time.
One of the tools I discuss in my book about lifemapping (a work in progress – which I may or may not finish, that incorporates ritual, self analysis, delving into darkness etc) is dream interpretation, as I have always found this to be a very satisfying method for understanding what’s going on. I’m fascinated by universal symbols, archetypes, the collective unconscious, the Shadow, anima/animus, the integrated self and so on. I have recorded my dreams since I was little and discovered that I have some common themes and some not so common. I found that it’s important to keep in mind factors such as what substances you have ingested or what foods you have eaten before bedtime (for example – if your digestive system is trying to negotiate with a variety of cheeses or spicy dishes then your dreams will be infiltrated with interesting if not alarming imagery!)
I also found it interesting to note that, for me anyway, smoking marijuana either stopped me from dreaming or at least remembering my dreams. Alcohol made dreams more vivid and colorful. I’m still grappling with the notion of drugs either opening gateways in the mind to hidden concepts, memories and dimensions that are actually there or if they just simply create hallucinations. Whatever happens, don’t the symbols, memories and the ‘raw materials’ already exist in our subconscious – so the idea should be, whatever works to flush them out?
I always found the dreamworld to be a magical state that provided endless insights and ideas. One of the earliest dreams that I can remember was when I was living at Nanna and Pa’s. It was after my parent’s divorce and my two brothers, Peter and Lucas, as well as my cousin Georgia were living there, with my father. In the dream we were all in a car, including Georgia’s father (he and my dad are identical twins). The men were sitting in the front and us kids were sitting in the back. We were driving up and down some very steep hills. We arrived on the top of one of the hills (it was night time) and our fathers got out at a gas station to pump the gas and get something from the store.
All of a sudden the car started rolling down the hill, faster and faster. Our dads were still back at the gas station and we were screaming for them. As we were plummeting down to the bottom of the hill, Georgia and I were trying to lean over to take hold of the wheel. I woke up just before we crashed at the bottom. I had this dream four nights in a row. I was about 5 years old. I realize now that it was an anxiety dream brought about by our parent’s divorces and that Georgia and I were trying to figure out how to take control of the situation, but couldn’t.
Car dreams have appeared here and there in my life, along with other vehicles. Symbolically vehicles represent the way you are traveling in life, or life itself. It’s all about what’s going on, whether you have control of the vehicle etc. I’ve often dreamed of being in the passenger seat, or not being able to drive properly, which is indicative of how I’ve felt with the direction my life has taken, over the years. One dream I had was with the car splitting in half – and both halves going in two different directions! Other dreams had me feeling like I couldn’t control the steering wheel or couldn’t make the car go faster. The best one I had was where I was on a motorcycle and was on a long straight road, all by myself and I was going full throttle! It was wonderful. At that time, my life was taking off and I felt like I had more control.
I’ve also dreamed about trains, often feeling like I was on the wrong train, or seeing a train crash into the ocean. (Water is supposed to represent the subconscious, or emotions.) Now that I am living in another country, I dream about planes and feeling stranded, or flying back to Australia and feeling like I can never get the connecting flight back here!
A major dream theme for me is the Tidal wave. When I was in my twenties, it was ominous and overwhelming. They were huge and would wash over me, devouring me like a monster. Sometimes I would be inside the tunnel and would see furniture such as clocks, chairs, tables etc in the water. I would be panicked, wondering how to get out and worried about drowning. Eventually I would be outside of the wave but on the beach and seeing it coming, still freaking out and trying to run, but my feet were heavy in the sand or the drag of the water would be pulling me into the wave.
Other times I would be in a city and I would see a wave coming over a tall building, or I would see the water sluicing down alleyways. It got to the stage when they were not a bother, as the last one was where I was sitting on a sunny beach and I saw a wave in the distance. I didn’t panic. I just observed it dispassionately and once it crashed on the shore I watched the foam gently creep up to my feet and tickle my toes. I realized that it signified my having tamed my emotions (to a degree!).
An interesting (almost precognitive) dream I had was when I had started a relationship with a guy who turned out to be – to put it politely – quite a handful. He was draining on my nerves and drove me nuts. Jim was an unemployed writer and we hit it off, even though I had a feeling that it was going to be trouble. I fell for him straight away as he had a wicked sense of humor and was very intelligent. I learned a lot from him and he exposed me to books, music and art that I might not have gotten into, so I am grateful for that, at least.
When we first started dating I had a dream about wading into the ocean. I was walking under the surface as though I had lead boots on. I could feel the current gently buffeting me about but I kept walking. Then I could see all these mines – the circular ones that are anchored at the bottom with chains, like balloons on strings. I had to navigate my way past them. It was like walking through a dense forest and I had to make sure I didn’t bump into them, with the current pushing me this way and that. As soon as I woke up I knew what it meant. This one was going to be trouble.
It was intense and there were a lot of tears and angry words. He was infuriating as he had no issue with taking and not giving in return. He would snap for no reason and had issues with drinking. He made me feel bad about my appearance as he was a typical small man caught up in the idea that women have to be petite and weak. I put up with him for two years and finally let him go. It was during that relationship that my brother died and his sister committed suicide, so at least we were there for each other. Everything has its reason, I suppose.
I’ve talked about my mountain dreams in my post ‘Otherworldliness’, so I won’t mention it again here – other than to say that I wonder if it represents the integration of the self, according to Carl Jung. That would explain my utter fascination with it and how I yearn for it so much!
Snakes have often been a recurring theme for me. Some say they represent psychic power or sexuality. The symbolism always depends on what they represent for the dreamer. One dream I had was where I was flying through a lush jungle and I saw a large, beautiful green snake on a small island in the middle of a lake. I flew down and spoke telepathically with it. I woke up feeling so at peace! Another dream had me walking up and down some stone steps of an ancient temple and I saw a strange, small blue snake with horns. Then I saw another one with a head at each end of his body. Symbolically, the snake in a circle, swallowing it’s own tail means wholeness or infinity. Maybe the snake having two heads meant that I had to make a decision before I could be whole? (I can’t remember what was happening in my life at that time.)
Another snake dream I had was where I was underwater – swimming with a large snake, hanging onto it. The water was murky and we were dodging rotten logs and flotsam and jetsam. I think at the time I was worried about sordid sexual relationships.
One of my significant dreams I had before coming to the U.S. to live, was about a house, that seemed to be somewhere in a place like Indonesia. It was tropical and mysterious. The house was very mysterious and I was interested in buying it but next door was a yard that I had to go through to get to it. The yard was protected by stone animals that came to life every time I entered it, like a video game. I criss crossed and negotiated my way across until I finally made my way to the house.
Once inside there was a large rectangular room where an Asian looking, blue ghost lady was floating along the four walls, going in circles. Every time she passed me I was scared but I knew I had to speak to her to buy the house. I made it past her to the bathroom but then she vanished and a woman was cooking in a kitchen, back from where I’d come from. I realized it was too late. Still trying to figure that one out.
One of the scariest dreams I had was one of the most profound, as it involved the integration of the self. I was in a dark attic, sitting cross legged. At the other end of the attic was a little blonde haired girl. I knew she was evil as she was eating body parts and had jagged teeth. She looked like a demon. She was wearing a tattered white dress that was splattered with blood. There were lumps of meat all over the floor. She saw me and then started floating towards me, her teeth gnashing and her eyes flashing, with her arms outstretched.
I was petrified but realized that I had to accept her as she was a part of myself that I kept hidden. (Either my rage or some other aspect I didn’t like to admit to.) The fear became more and more intensified the closer she got to me until finally she was in my arms. Suddenly she transformed into a ‘normal’ little girl and was sobbing into my shoulder. I comforted and hugged her, telling her that everything was going to be alright. Once I awoke I realized that something huge had just occurred and felt very proud of myself.
I know that some people think that other people’s dreams are boring but I want to include the important ones (important to me, at least!) in my memoir as they’re a part of my history. Dreams afford us the opportunity to explore our motivations and to analyze our lives from different perspectives. They can be warnings or messages of hope and peace. If nothing else, they are a well of inspiration and wonderful ideas.
Until 1997 I hadn’t lost anyone particularly close to me, other than distant relatives, whose funerals I went to out of respect and to show support. The first funeral I had been to that I remember was for my cousins’ baby who had died of cot death (SIDS) when I was twelve years of age. It was 1978 and a grey day in Melbourne. My cousin was small and skinny with the front of her hair dyed orange and she was clutching onto her boyfriend. They were both crying uncontrollably and everyone else was huddled around them in a protective circle.
I remember the coffin being so terribly small. Everyone commented on how in the hell they could’ve fitted him in there. It was powder blue with a royal blue ribbon around it, only needing two men to carry it up to the altar. Afterwards, at the wake, I heard snippets of hushed conversation about the events leading up to the discovery of his lifeless body in his crib, how the blood had settled in ridges so he must’ve been dead for a while.
At the time, they didn’t know much about cot death and everyone puzzled at what happened, what could’ve been done and how hopeless the situation was. I was a very young twelve year old and didn’t know how to react so just hugged my cousin and said sorry and she gripped me and said “luv ya cuz!” It was all very confusing and sad.
For a long time, death happened to other people and I was somewhat cocooned from it, until 1997, when it caught up with a vengeance. Early in the year, I was in a relationship with – let’s call him John, who was many things but he mostly drove me insane. We had been together for about a year. I learned a lot from him and he was passionate, crazy, insanely funny, hyper intelligent, unemployed and a writer. I loved him to death but he was a serious drain on my energy. I had been doing my own tarot readings for years and at the time had pulled the cards out every so often, but every time I did, as I was shuffling, the death card kept falling out. Every time!
I consider myself mostly secular, but at that time, it freaked me out. It happened six times in one week and I decided not to touch the cards for a while. Two weeks later I picked them up again and carefully shuffled, deliberately clearing my mind and thinking about my career and other pleasant things. When I cut the cards and turned half the stack over, the death card stared me in the face! I was mortified. I quickly put them away again and told John, who was Catholic and straight away he was freaked, telling me to stay away from them.
At the time I hadn’t had my period but I’d always had issues with my cycles so didn’t think much of it, until I ended up having to go to the emergency room with unexplained bleeding. It was a miscarriage. After it was all dealt with I thought of the death card but brushed it aside, as I was upset over losing the child, even though it wasn’t planned and probably for the best seeing as the relationship was by no means stable.
Two weeks later John and were in my kitchen, making dinner when the phone rang. It was my stepfather who matter of factly told me that my younger brother Peter had died of a heroin overdose. Just like that. I’ve always had a delayed panic response to crisis. It’s always way after the dust has settled. I calmly asked what I needed to do. He asked if I could come with them to view the body. I agreed, hung up and asked John if he could watch Zack, who was ten years old at the time, so I could go and identify my brothers’ body. He was dumbstruck and came around the counter to hug me, telling me – “Of course!”
We talked about Peters’ wretched life and how on the one hand it wasn’t a shock, but on the other – how it was still a surprise. We had all tried, at various and numerous times to help him, to offer a stable home and to get him help. But it never worked due to relapses and so on. Things would get stolen, he would get involved with seedy circles and bring them back to our homes. There were mountains of broken promises, rivers of tears, lies and hopeless regrets.
My mother and stepfather turned up and we drove to the hospital. I was worried about Mum as she was so calm and rational. She kept saying over and over that at least the hopeless struggle was over, as though she was trying to convince herself. I knew that deep down it didn’t matter – the struggle, because the bottom line was that her baby was gone. The chance for trying to help him one more time was ripped out of her hands. We talked like robots as though reading from a pre-approved script until we arrived at the hospital. Once inside they took us to a room and a nurse told us that they had him in another room. She pulled me out of the room for a minute to tell me that Peter was on a slab and rigor mortis had set in, so it probably wasn’t suitable for Mum to see him like that. I agreed that it was probably for the best if I was the one to identify him.
I went back into the room and without explaining why, told Mum that I should be the one to identify him. She agreed – still stunned and said that she wanted to remember him the way he used to be. Before I walked out she said “Make sure you check the tattoos. Remember? Jimi Hendrix? And get the rings if they’re on him.” I said ok and followed the nurse into the hallway where a kindly policeman was waiting to lead me to the room.
Once at the door he turned and stopped me as I was ready to just casually walk inside. He told me to prepare myself. In a calm voice he said “The person you’re about to see is not the same as the one you’ll remember, so take your time.” My mind was racing but I just wanted to get it over and done with, so I nodded impatiently and said ok. He opened the door slowly and held it open for me to walk in. I took two steps and instantly – a tear shot out of my eye like a bullet! There he was, like a statue from Pompeii, on a cold metal slab, on his back, with his arms twisted upwards as though warding off an invisible attacker.
The plastic tubing was still in his mouth and a clear plastic sheet was draped over his body. It was like something out of a horror movie. The expression on his face was contorted as though he was still in discomfort. The smell of formaldehyde was overwhelming. I started hyperventilating. The policeman had a hand on my arm, asking if I wanted to take a break. I said no, but was having difficulty dealing with what I was seeing. I remember thinking “Check the tattoos”. I saw Jimi Hendrix on his bicep. It’s amazing how your mind tries to trip you up. I kept saying to myself “Are you sure it’s him? Check again!”
I kept checking and even when I said to the policeman, “Yes it’s him” and we walked out the door, I had to turn around and have a second look, to make sure. As he walked me back to the room where Mum and Brian were, I composed myself and asked the policeman to make sure we got his rings back. He promised and he did. As soon as I walked into the room I looked at Mum and didn’t even have to say anything. Straight away she collapsed into sobs and it began.
For a week the grief kept its’ distance from me. I was the one who called all the relatives all over Australia and planned the funeral. I organized the viewing before the funeral (we decided not to have an open casket – even though they did a great job on Peter and he looked so peaceful). On the morning of the funeral, that’s when it hit me. I was sitting on the couch next to John, when all of a sudden it was like a cannonball hitting my stomach. I had previously assumed that grief was just like any other emotional pain or depression, just deeper. No-one tells you that it’s a whole different ball game.
I physically felt it, in my stomach, like a rolling black ball, all consuming and dragging me down in a pit of despair. There was nothing I could do to fight it. It horrified me, as I could not control it. I could hear a howl come out of me that I had never heard before. John grabbed me and held me, much to his eternal credit – he did have a human side. I sobbed and gasped, drowning in a pool of darkness, wondering if I would ever come out of it. About ten minutes later it subsided. When I finally came to and sat back up I realized that this might happen at the funeral. I wondered if I might be able to control it then.
At the funeral, one of my cousins played the didgeridoo – which is an amazing instrument at any time, but at a funeral it drags out your grief, kicking and screaming, by the ankles. Everyone was kind of holding it together until he started playing, when the curtain finally closed over the coffin. The deep bellow of the instrument grabbed our souls and we surrendered. It was beautiful and horrible at the same time. But very necessary.
A week later I was having a shower and the grief monster hit me again, right in the pit of my stomach. I doubled over and collapsed on the bottom of the shower and waited for it to subside. It was like being possessed by a separate entity. It came in and after it did what it had to, it left. After that I was able to control it better.
Two weeks after my brother died, we heard about my uncle committing suicide. It was during the anthrax epidemic and farmers were having to cull their stock. He had been depressed and two weeks earlier had started taking prozac. My aunty told me that he had walked into his neighbors’ dam and drowned himself.
A month after that, Johns’ sister committed suicide. She gassed herself in her car after a relationship breakup. John and his family were devastated, as they had already lost a younger sister when John was quite young and their father a few years earlier. That whole period was a fog of death. It was so surreal and it took quite a while to get back to some semblance of order.
It wasn’t until the end of that year when I remembered the death card popping out all those times. It took a long time for me to be able to take the cards out again!
It’s hard to describe yourself as a fringe dweller without coming across as an attention seeker, or as someone desperate to be perceived as different and standing out from the crowd. On the one hand, here I am writing a blog in order to flesh out my stories for my memoir – according to advice I have received, which states that modern writers have to blog and market themselves in order to ‘drum up business’. Blogging seems so extroverted and not really something dwelling on the fringe, as everyone is doing it.
On the other hand, blogging is very foreign to me, as I usually write everything in long hand before typing a second draft on my computer, which is then re-jigged as a third, forth and fifth draft (sometimes more), before I send the query letter, synopsis etc to a variety of publishers and so on, without anything ever having been exposed to the public. I usually prefer this operating behind the veil, although it is a new and exciting experience putting my work out there for all to see, before it is accepted or rejected by publishers.
I have always felt like I am ‘In, but not of the world’ – not so much an outsider, but definitely a fringe dweller. Even when amongst people I feel close to, I don’t usually feel that people truly understand what I am saying or trying to convey. Maybe it’s the same for everyone – as we all experience things differently. And maybe that’s why we tell our stories, so that we can at least try to make a connection. Maybe if there’s someone out there who understands or who has been through the same or similar things, we won’t feel so strange or alone.
Like most introverted people, I live a lot inside my own head. However I do enjoy getting that stuff out because it does get cluttered and noisy! When I was very young I used to draw question marks with faces inside them. Apparently I drew them on my stuffed humpty dumpty doll. A friend of my fathers’ wanted to get me analyzed. That was the time when I set my crib on fire. It was also around that time when I would get up in the middle of the night and assemble my dolls and stuffed toys and hold meetings. I had a lot to discuss and it was all so very important, until my mother came in and angrily told me to get back to bed and go to sleep.
I remember having afternoon naps and staring out the window at the bright blue sky, in a daze. It was a kind of meditative state, staring at the sky and the clouds, hearing a plane faintly in the distance, or a lawnmower. I don’t think it was particularly spiritual, but I remember wondering about life, who I was and how nice it was just to be still and wondering about life! Sometimes I would get up and look out the window onto the rooftops below, at the air vents and dirty alley ways. I don’t remember thinking anything specifically. I was just full of wonder and maybe making plans of what I would do when I had the freedom to get out amongst it all.
Jeremy Keith from Brighton & Hove, United Kingdom
My mother often told me that I always seemed far away and that sometimes, when I looked at her, I seemed to be looking straight through her. It’s probably because I’ve always been such a daydreamer. Teachers have always told me off for staring out the window and to pay attention. Reality can be such a bore. When around others, and being forced to be a part of the group and to join in, I find it annoying and distracting, unless I’m actually interested in what’s going on. I hate being told that something is going to be fun, when the other party has no idea about what I might find enjoyable.
Growing up, others mistook it for contrariness or stubbornness. It was never deliberate. I tried (and continue to try) very hard to be a part of society or any particular group and even pretend where necessary, in order to appease and maintain the status quo. But every now and then I step on the brakes, as I remember that I am not 10 anymore. I remember that I have developed my discriminative senses over the years and that there are times where I can say no or put in my two cents worth.
When I was five and in my first year of primary school, it was after lunch and the bell had rung but I hadn’t heard it. Everyone else had gone back to class but I was oblivious and kept playing in the tall grass, talking to myself in a world of my own. Eventually the teacher came stomping down the dirt track calling my name and my stomach jumped. I snapped back to reality and followed hot on her heels. She snarled over her shoulder “Didn’t you hear the bell?!” Cow.
It’s funny thinking of myself as a child – as the only thing that has changed is that I’m older. Essentially I’m still the same person, just with more memories, ideals, tastes, problems and circumstances, etc. I still stare out the window. I still find it hard to join in. I still find it annoying to have to go through a daily routine (instead of going to school – going to work and having to pay bills etc, like everyone else!). I still wish I could be taken care of, even though I’m a grown woman and a feminist. I still wish things could be simple, although I love intellectual pursuits. I still love being silly although I abhor childishness. I still crave adventure although I relish the comfort of my home.
I so desire a successful writing career but I’m also very afraid of it. Is that what’s holding me back?
We’re all on our own journeys in terms of spirituality and I, like most others have vacillated between a variety of beliefs (and most recently, more towards non belief). But for me, at least, it’s far more interesting to go back to when I was a child and to remember what it was like to not know, or at least, to wonder. As an adult I hate not knowing and much prefer concrete evidence, common sense, reason and intellectual understanding. I can look at a sunset, knowing that it’s a collection of vapors and chemicals and can still be exhilarated by the beauty of it all without having to attribute it to a deity. (I don’t mean to offend the religious, each to his/her own etc – this is just my opinion, at this stage in my life.)
However I do remember the ‘magic’ of otherworldliness. I do remember being mystified by the idea of fairies and the idea of an all powerful, all knowing Godhead who watched over us and had all the answers. I remember believing that my teddy bears and dolls had feelings and souls. One early memory I have is being a toddler in my crib and setting fire to it, with a box of matches I had found. I lit the matches one by one, throwing them to the edges of the crib, watching the flames in rapture, feeling like I was in the center of a birthday cake.
My mother remembers the screaming, calling the fire brigade and crashing into the room to save my baby brother and I. My nightdress had gone up in smoke and all that was left were the arms and the back of it. I didn’t have any burns whatsoever! Everyone thought it was a miracle. My teddy had a burnt leg and I was completely grief stricken. Every time I looked at him I was wracked with guilt for having hurt him so much.
Even as a young adult I felt a twinge of shame and it took a long time for me to realize that he was just an inanimate object! (It was even worse when I had taken him for show and tell at school years after the fire, when a nasty little shit had ripped out his eyes, the bastard! I thought – now he’s blind too! I couldn’t bear to let my mother sew new eyes on him for fear of putting him through more pain. More guilt for me!)
When I was about ten years old I walked into our kitchen and straight out asked my mother if she believed in fairies. I did – but I needed an adult to tell me so I could feel secure in the ‘knowledge’ that fairies were real. I knew the instant she responded with that ‘Oh god, I better humor her’ look, that fairies were not real. I was angry, hurt and deeply depressed. Even though she tried to convince me “Yes darling, of course I believe in fairies!” with that patronizing smile, it was too late. I had my answer.
Mind you, I didn’t stop reading fairy tales, and books by Enid Blyton, mythology, Catweazel, The Children of Green Knowe etc. I was 50% willing it to be true and pretending it was true and 50% knowing it wasn’t and ignoring that fact. For me, the bottom line was that it was entertaining and afforded me the kind of escapism I dearly needed.
When I was little I remember going to stay at my aunt’s farm in the country. She and her boyfriend were hippies. They had chickens and a ginger cat called Peter, who went on adventures with me. They had a statue of David for a doorbell. There was a sign over his penile unit that said “Pull”. You flipped the sign up & pulled on the penis that was attached to a wire that sounded the doorbell. Hilarious! They had a big shed full of these statues. I was mystified by these statues. (Not sure if it was the start of Agalmatophilia, which is sexual attraction to a statue or figure – but I don’t feel like that now, even though I appreciate them!)
I would spend ages hiding in the shed, just staring at them, transported to another dimension. I can’t remember what I was thinking, but it was magical. A few years earlier, when I was around five years of age, I had started having hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations – which is basically dreaming while awake. I’ll write about those experiences in more depth later as there’s quite a lot of ground to cover. But at that time I had also started to get up in the middle of the night and would talk to myself in the mirror. Needless to say, it freaked my elders out! They would put sheets and towels on the mirrors but I would just go to another room and do it again!
I was always attracted to the idea of alternate worlds, portals, other dimensions. Maybe it was a subconscious need for escape, as my parents were divorced then and I was living at my grandparents with my father and my cousin and brothers. I kept having a recurring dream of a mountain which still haunts me to this day. I’ve always wanted to find ‘my mountain’. In the dream, I would wake up at my Nanna’s house and go out into her garden, around the side of the house and I would see this majestic, snow capped mountain behind the shed.
I could never get to it because there was always something in the way, like a gate I couldn’t get through, a clump of weeds or bushes, etc. I can see now that it probably represented the integrated self calling to me – for a chance to escape all the crap our families were going through and to ‘find myself’. Every time I see a perfect, snow capped mountain I get a chill of excitement, like I’m still waiting for it. It’s almost a spiritual pull. But it’s a very particular type of mountain and for some reason, ever since I can remember, it’s somewhere in Sweden!
(Not Sweden – but looks just like my mountain!)
When I was living at Nanna and Pa’s, around five years of age, I had an experience that could be explained as either my synapses misfiring, or a narcoleptic experience (although they say that hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations are not technically under the umbrella of narcolepsy). It could have been a dream. The funny thing is – my Pa had the same experience when he was a boy and so did my father and his twin, in the same room! (Pa had his experience in a different house.)
In my event I was asleep in my room at Nanna and Pa’s, when a bright light suddenly filled the room and woke me up. It was so white that it was tinged with blue and was almost too bright to look at. I was under the covers, afraid and wondering what was happening when an astronaut came into the room. (When it happened to my father and his twin brother they called him the white milkman and my Pa had said he thought it was a ghost.) As soon as I saw the astronaut I passed out. Then I felt waves over me, as though two people were on either side of the bed wafting the blanket up and down on me. I was so scared but couldn’t move.
I’ll talk about my ‘narcoleptic’ experiences in another post, as they would take up a whole chapter. The sensations were always the same, tingling up and down my spine, feeling frozen and not being able to move, not being able to scream for help. My father and uncle had said that the white milkman came to them when they were in the crib and the room also went a vivid white color. Apparently he just stood there staring at them for a while and then he disappeared. My Pa had a similar experience with his ghost.
I’ve also had OBE’s (out of the body experiences – also known as astral traveling). I’ve seen fantastic planets with colors that I’ve never seen before and had experiences that aren’t easily explained. One time, I slammed back into my body so hard that my boyfriend at the time freaked out and leapt out of bed, thinking that I had deliberately jumped onto the bed from the ceiling! He was angry, scared and confused. When I explained to him what happened he still didn’t believe me and thought I was nuts.
The idea of these magical experiences being real is quite delicious, as they hint at otherworldliness, which would mean that there is something else out there, the ‘unknowable’, that would allay my fears of death and ceasing to be. In my twenties, when I was going through a phase of fearing death, I had an OBE where I was floating in a strange place amongst a lot of crazy mathematical equations. I kept hearing a voice telling me that death was not the end. Of course, when I woke up, my fear of death had vanished.
A religious person would say that it was God coming to help me. A scientist would say that it was my subconscious will trying to calm myself down so I could keep operating. My attitude is – whatever works.
I enjoy fantasy as it juices up the imagination and enriches my creativity. I also enjoy reason as I am most comforted by the truth, facts and figures. I like my feet firmly rooted in the earth so my head can safely wander through the universe and back again.
I had taken a week off work to write and for two days I procrastinated with fits and starts, but pretty much only produced the beginning of a poem regarding my mother and her life. Only a page and a third so far! Inspired by Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ I used interesting language and it was all going well when I just stopped. I just wasn’t feeling it.
Then I got sidetracked by music, t.v., the internet and naps. When I went back to it – it wasn’t there. Not so much writer’s block – I just didn’t feel it. The thoughts of delving back into her life seemed unappetizing. I’m not sure if it’s the guilt of being so far away from her and my family or fear of the painful memories.
I keep oscillating between projects, genres and formats, not being able to make up my mind. I’m very good at making lists and organizing my writing. I have spreadsheets and notes that make it very clear as to what is to be written and how. The hard part is actually sitting down and writing them out – fleshing them out.
It takes me so long to finally pick a genre that by the time I’ve decided what to write, I sit down and instantly find myself dissatisfied with my choice and end up staring at a blank page. Again, it’s not necessarily writer’s block. There’s an unsettling feeling that it might not work or that I’ve made a wrong decision in terms of format or topic.
Then I think about not writing in long hand whilst sitting on the couch and ponder writing at my computer. The issue with my shoulder freezing stops that idea in it’s tracks, so I think about going to my other desk that looks out over our lovely back yard. But then I’d spend too much time gazing out the window daydreaming and the cats would want to join in and disrupt everything.
It seems like I’m making excuses but in truth I lack the discipline, because I don’t do it enough. I’m great at planning but doing is another thing entirely. I know that usually once I get into it, pages start flying and I’m in the zone. I can meet publishers deadlines. I have had articles published in three of Llewellyn’s Almanacs and every time I submitted my writing way before the deadline, without any need of revision, I’m proud to say.
But that was then, this is now, as it’s more personal as I’m attempting to write a very personal memoir. (What memoir isn’t personal!?) Part of the problem is censoring as I go. I can’t help it. I can feel my family peering over my shoulders. I find my eyes wandering up the page, making mental notes or crossing out what I’ve written, revising and mutilating.
I remember the Beats – particularly Kerouac saying something about rewriting being censorship and to go with your original, raw and true thought. I guess I’m a little more like Ginsberg (Oh how I wish!) in that, although the idea of not censoring is delicious, it seems sloppy and messy. Then I hear Burroughs say ‘Exterminate all rational thought’ and I’m back at square one!
I’ve been working on a non fiction self help book (yawn!) for the past few years. It started out with the idea of life mapping, using techniques such as self analysis, ritual, dream interpretation and researching your background through the trials and tribulations of your parents and what they brought to the table – in terms of psychological influences, parenting skills (or lack thereof), experiences, events, backgrounds, circumstances and so on.
I’ve got it all worked out re: synopsis, sample chapters, permissions and citations, research, formats etc. But I just can’t seem to get back into it. Ever since I received feedback from Urbis (a writing site that disappeared without so much as a ‘thank your mother for the rabbits’!) – I’ve been stuck. Mind you, the feedback was constructive, important and relevant (and so terribly obvious that I was disgusted for not thinking of it myself).
The advice was – why don’t you use yourself as a case study? Readers like to know that the writer knows something about the subject because they’ve experienced it, or in that book’s case – that the writer has gone through the steps put forth. I had thought that I could get away with using other people as case studies – namely Jack Kerouac and Vali Myers.
I was such an idiot. How could I have laid out an action plan for others to follow when I hadn’t tested it out on myself? How could I claim that my processes worked if I hadn’t gone through them myself? (Even though I had dabbled in ritual, dream interpretation etc – I hadn’t done so in the formalized way that my book was suggesting.)
Then I realized that I had the daunting task of ‘unraveling’ myself and my history. How horrible to relive the experiences I’ve been hiding from my whole life. How laborious to wade through all the crap that bubbles under the surface of my shining, smiling facade! People have always told me that I seem perpetually happy and content; that I’m helpful, kind, dependable – almost zen like. Hilarious! Made me want to punch them in the face.
I’v always been viewed as carefree, strong and capable. Not so hilarious. Every time someone told me so, the anger started rising in my throat. I should have been thankful that others viewed me in such a positive light. But that’s always been the problem. It suited them to do so. It was in their best interests to think of me like that – then they could keep heaping it on me! I would be stoic and brave and they could continue to lean on me, depend on me to be there for them.
Woe betide me if I ever leaned back. I was supposed to be strong. I was told to snap out of it and keep everything kicking along. Or they’d make excuses and hasty retreats, not contacting me again until the storm had passed. When I failed, let things go, became a mess – their anger knew no bounds. I was never allowed to be anything less than strong, capable, dependable.
Digging up all those memories and repressed feelings seemed akin to letting the zombies run wild! I wondered if I could still keep it all together whilst recording all that flotsam and jetsam. Just writing those previous paragraphs had me gnashing my teeth, fighting back tears and wanting to punch my teddy bears!
Mind you, it wasn’t all that bad. Like most people, I’ve had just as many good things happen to and around me, if not more. It’s just the concept of unearthing everything, warts and all, at the same time trying to maintain order, that boggles my mind. Then of course, there’s the guilt of hanging out dirty laundry. (An old boyfriend told me once that I was more Catholic than him, when it came to guilt – and I’m not Catholic!).
Writers have to deal with the guilt of hanging out the dirty laundry, in the most skillful way, however – in one sense, no-one owns events, or has control over your emotions or memories of those events. The trick is to try to be reasonable and philosophical.
(To be continued)