Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Welcome to the blogspot of Melbourne writer, Elizabeth Jane

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Early in the morning

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them:

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A great piece of dialogue

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:'Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!'

But the other criminal rebuked him.

'Don't you fear God,'he said,'since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.'

Then he said,'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

Jesus answered him,'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recollections 2010

Today I launched Recollections 2010, the Hawthorn Community Education Centre's, Life Writing anthology.

I had a wonderful morning, with a truly receptive audience of absolutely switched on participants. What an inspiration. Senior citizens writing, learning, publishing and growing into and beyond their octogenarian years.

As you weren't able to come to the launch. And as you hang on my every word :-), I thought I'd better publish my thoughts.

* * *

I received my copy of the anthology from Kath a little over a week ago and have been living in the ‘past’ ever since. Reading of red rattlers and steam trains, old cars and Joe’s ice-cream, weddings, kitchen mistakes and unexpected friendships, hot air balloons and silence, a rose, a gull and even a humble bumble bee.

Mulling over your memoirs, I have been surprised by the stab of long forgotten memories, have found myself walking down the byways of my own remembered past. And as I mulled, I fell to wondering: What could I say to you today?

What is it that Recollections has shown me about the writing life?

The need to Show, is the compelling motivation in an anthology such as Recollections.

In her foreword, Fran Cassar expressed this succinctly:

‘I promised the family I’d write my memoirs one day to record a life growing up in Far North Queensland.’

I wonder how many others were compelled by such a promise? Maybe you have always wanted to write but the business of life somehow got in the way? Or maybe, you have looked into the uncomprehending face of a grandchild as you tried to explain a life before computers and mobile phones, and thought, how do I explain?

You have seen so many changes: The nineteen thirties depression, for example, a world at war, the emergence of air travel, the growing dominance of the motor car. You have lived in homes without a television or telephone, maybe even without refrigeration or flushing toilets. And you have thought: I I’d better write these memories down before I run out of time.

Now, one of my claims to fame (which is alas almost ancient history), is that I won a short story prize. The other thing about me is that, although I have written contemporary short stories, most of my fiction is set in the past. The story that won the Bristol Prize, was one such story. It was based on a World War Two memory. Such a tiny memory fragment, seen through the eyes of a child, an event that may not even have happened, yet, I had a desire to write about it.

Now in case you have not already drawn this conclusion, I was not alive in World War Two. If you haven’t already concluded this, please do so now, or I won’t talk to you over a cup of tea. I may have wrinkles, and yes, my hair is coloured, and some mornings I certainly feel like I was alive in the 1940’s, but I am not that age!

Writing this particular story, involved research.

My first port of call was Mum (yes, it was her memory), I pumped her for details: descriptions of her house, the scullery, the kind of stove they used, what they ate for dinner, the colour of the wallpaper, the kind of carpet on the floor. I wrote reams of notes, asked a roll-call of questions, and looked at a cabinet full of old photographs. Then, after I had exhausted mum’s memories, the real fun began.

As part of the sixty years since VE Day celebrations, the BBC put together an archive of memories, called: WW2 People’s War. In the months leading up to the sixtieth anniversary, they encouraged people to write down anything, anything at all, that they could remember from the war and submit it to the archive – and people did!

Even those who were children at the time.

Why am I telling you this? I hope you have already guessed.

I used many of those first person accounts to create my story of Swansea, during the Three Nights Blitz, as seen through the eyes of a child.

Furthermore, I hope you have already realised, you are providing the same level of detail in Recollections. The description of a new kitchen, for instance, a new jazz club in Balwyn, late night shopping in Terang. In your urge to Show, you are laying down an eyewitness account for a future generation. As a researcher, I know this to be true, and as a librarian with City of Boroondara Library Service, I can affirm we have has almost every edition of Recollections.

They are regarded a valuable, first-person local history resource.

Have, I made my point? Good. Let's move on.

In reading Recollections, I realised that many of the stories don’t simply Show the past, they grapple with it – interpreting and coming to terms with events, with the benefit of distance and hindsight.

I call this the need to Know. And to my mind, it is one of the most profound and important aspects of the writing experience, for as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are minor matters, compared to what lies within us.’

It is no coincidence therefore that many of the stories recount mistakes. Calling the Thames – Burcote Brook, for example, eating someone else’s scone, dropping a freshly pie on the dog’s blanket while trying to live up to a mother-in-law’s culinary expertise, a bag of tomatoes breaking in Myers and leaving you wondering, to this day, what your new daughter-in-law said under her breath, mulling over the origins of an unusual name, questioning God and lost faith while stuck in the mud, or cleaning up after a late night visit gone wrong.

But it is not only mistakes I find in Recollections. Other stories, highlight patterns, events coming full circle: a son buying a boat at forty, for example, a light look at the differences between a mother and daughter, the return of a school bully in later life, an unexpected letter from a grandmother long after she has died, the cure of a potentially disfiguring birth mark, a strange obsessive friendship, the reason your dad never, ever ate Frankfurts.

Human beings are purpose driven creatures. We seek to find meaning in the patterns of our lives. I see this in Recollections. And I affirm your explorations. As a fellow traveller, I celebrate your daring – for I see the same need in myself.

Why else do I, a migrant child, write a novel about migrants? Why do I, a librarian, recount one of my early library experiences? Why am I, the child of parents who both lived through the Blitz, writing war stories? Why am I going back to research another such story this June?

George Tooker said: ‘Painting is an attempt to come to terms with life. There are as many solutions as there are human beings.’

For me, and for many of you, I suspect, writing is that canvas: it helps us find meaning and purpose in the seemingly random events of our lives.

The final motivation I find in Recollections, is a desire to Grow.

In her foreword, Fran spoke of the Life Writing Course giving her the confidence to persevere. She spoke of working with encouragers, embracing new technologies, all day workshops, radio readings, and Tele-links.

Other authors, spoke of not yet realised dreams, to travel on the Ghan, for instance, and the Overland, the desire to foster a love of reading in a grandchild, or to ride a motor bike one last time. The joy of dabbling and collecting, walking groups and café culture, the beauty of nature, in its various feathered, furred and floral forms. The wonder of mime and indigenous culture, the plight of refugees, and the terrible beauty of a bushfire.

These are today’s issues, seen through the lens of a long life, and they tell me there is much to look forward too – that no matter how long life’s journey, there is always room to Grow. I found the image of lying in bed on a Sunday morning and watching hot air balloons drift across the sky particularly moving. Such a small private moment, such a powerful image of buoyancy and hope.

So, thank you for the memories – for the courage to re-visit those that are difficult; the love that infuses your fondest; the humorous spark by which you have illuminated the ordinary, and the philosophical musings by which you make sense of life.

It is my pleasure and privilege to launch this edition of Recollections. I wish you all the best as you continue to Show, Know and Grow in your writing life.

* * *

Long may it be so! In my life and yours.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The language of Heaven

Well, friends, I am all cared out. I have been to untold medical appointments, sat through an ACAT assessment, been on a number of snail-pace shopping trips, held a series of one-sided conversations, and watched a helluva lot of British police procedurals.

And I am still smiling.

It is time to unfold the third secret of my success.

It is, of course, Welsh.

Yup! That's right Cymraeg.

'Hang on,' you say. 'You've been learning Welsh for years. It hasn't helped in the past.'

'You are right,' I say in reply. 'But, I've recently stepped up the pace.'

Last month, I booked a trip to the UK. I will be spending three weeks in Wales. Two of these, in the North, where Welsh is still the first language. 'Why?' I hear you ask (gosh you are inquisitive tonight). 'Do you have family there?'

No, I explain with great forbearance. My reasons are profound and also threefold.

  1. Because I want to
  2. Because I can
  3. Ac achos, dw i'n eisiau siarad Cymraeg (and because I want to speak Welsh).  
The Welsh part is is actually rather rash. I am sick to the stomach nervous about the whole thing. Not about making myself understood. About actually plucking up the nerve to say something. It's all very well to learn a language, and quite another thing to speak it!

I have tried to be brave while making bookings, throwing in the odd Welsh sentence, a few succinct greetings. And I have already made some fantastic mistakes. Telling one woman, 'I am a tight budget' (rather than on one). Asking another man what the word nwch meant (apparently North Wales Car Hire).

In an effort to boost my confidence, my friend Dai Tren, suggested I learn some of the North Walian dialogue, in preparation for the trip.

'What?' I said. 'Won't they understand my South Walian (spoken in halting sentences, with eyes closed, and an Australian accent)?'

'They might,' he replied. 'But they will answer in their own dialect.'

Well, I hadn't thought of that!

'Fe fyddi di'n OK,' he said. But try and do the first twenty six lessons of  saysomethinginwelsh before you go.

Right, I thought, doing a quick mental calculation.

Fourteen weeks until I leave, plus two weeks in England. That's two-plus lessons a week, not including the bonus lessons.

'It's colloquial,' Dai said. 'The way people speak every day. I found it helpful.'

Well, I have to admit, Dai's Welsh is better than mine (probably because he does more homework). I decided it wouldn't hurt to check this SSIW out.

The website made some extravagant claims. 10,267 Welsh learners. No reading, or writing. No revision.

In short a miracle - and exactly what I needed.

The first lesson was very colloquial. 'Rydw i'n shortened to: Dw i'n. Rwyt ti'n mynd i fedru siarad (you are going to be able to speak), shortened to: ti'n mynd i fedru siarad. With a few kind of lazy words like licio (like), instead of hoffi, and trio, for try. But mostly it involved Aran (my new best friend) saying words and phrases in English and me trying to say the equivalent in Welsh, before his wife Catrin repeated them. I was allowed to use the pause button, at first. But forbidden to move onto the next lesson until I could say the Welsh before Catrin every time.

Now, folks, this is where the i word comes back in to my tale. Not a Welsh i - the Apple i. You see, I realised I could download the Mp3 files onto my iPhone.

Yes, that's right! My iPhone.

This week, I have done SSIW while cooking, cleaning, doing dishes, hanging washing, cleaning cupboards and putting out the bins. I have even listened to the lessons while out walking. Although, this did earn me a few stares. Okay, I wasn't wearing earphones (because of my hearing aids), so it did look rather like I was muttering.

But hey, this is Adelaide. I saw a woman walking an Alpaca, the other night.

So, there you have it, the secrets behind my week of caring - Skimble, Apple, and SSIW.

But, I must conclude with a disclaimer.

My friend Dai Tren, doesn't actually have an iPhone. I don't even think he has an iPod. Indeed if the SSIW website is to be believed, an i device isn't strictly necessary. Likewise, some claim to have been helped by other, android, languages.

Me, I am not convinced. To walk round the block repeating Spanish, in place of Welsh, just wouldn't work work. It just wouldn't. I mean, for a start, Welsh is easier, never mind the extra vowels and the mutations. And so very handy. I mean, think of all the places you can speak Welsh.

What? You never wanted to visit Patagonia?

No friends, I fear my friend Dai Tren is probably just a freak. Those android claims nothing but a hoax. For, i, is the prefix of choice. And Welsh is the language of heaven.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Introducing: Skimble (beware, this blog may change your life)

Ordinarily, I wouldn't recommend a personal trainer. It's nothing more than a temptation to hate somebody. But, when I down loaded the Skimble App, Kim, Sophia and Jack were part of the package.
I thought: why not? Extend yourself!

I used Jack in Lorne and Sophia in Tassie, so this trip, (fair’s fair) I brought Kim along.

My first night in Adelaide, I activated the Running Interval workout. Anticipating three eight minute jogs, interspersed with two minute power walks. This was rather ambitious, as I have mostly been working out on a cross trainer at the gym. But, I am a carer this week, on dutiful daughter duty.

A significant boost was required.

I managed the first eight minutes without hiccup. Okay, I am lying. I had to drop off mum’s prescription at the five minute mark which gave me a chance to breath. But after that, only three more minutes. I earned myself a power walk.

Kim kept up a steady stream of encouragement:

You’re doing great, she said in her computer generated monotone. Get psyched!

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when after the first two minute power walk, Kim told me to sprint for thirty seconds. Then jog! Then sprint! Then jog! Then sprint!

Hang on, I knew this workout! I cooked it up under a delusion of supreme fitness. It involved a hefty chunk of interval training slap bang in the middle. I would have to stop, choose another workout. It was too much.

Think positive, Kim piped in, believe in yourself!

What a dilemma. On the one hand, my natural antipathy to pain and exertion. The other, Kim challenging me to break boundaries. You can do it! she said.
And suddenly I was! Running like a hare.

You’re doing fantastic

I made it right through that interval segment. I even got half way through my next eight minute jog.

Remember to breath deeply, Kim said. By now I had stitch. Keep your form together, she added, as I slowed to a walk. This is no time to slack

But, here’s the thing thing about Kim. She didn’t scold me, not once. No matter how slowly I walked. Even when I came to a halt. She kept up her flow of positive words.

Bring it on, she said as I staggered up the driveway of Mum’s retirement village. Step it up, as I collapsed. You’ll feel the satisfaction of this tomorrow, she added, as I fumbled for button on my iPhone.

And Kim was right. I am still here in Aberfoyle Park. Focussed! Agile! and Pumped!

, Kim added, at around the four minute mark. Get into it!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A non-carer's guide to caring

This week, I'm in Adelaide. Mum has her arm in plaster and I have been wheeled in to help. The role of carer doesn't sit well with me. Too much patience and constant attention involved. But I've been here three whole days and, so far, I haven't even begun to grit my teeth.

Yes, that's right. It is all smiles down here in Aberfoyle Park.

Okay, a few desperate moments when I couldn't find the password to mum's Wifi. But a quick SMS to my brother in Malawi got it sorted. Since then, I have cooked, scoured dishes, cleaned cupboards (Shh! Andrew doesn't know I can do this), shopped and driven to medical appointments.

Yep, that's right.

I am hailing myself a huge success.

Furthermore, as this looks like becoming a regular gig and I am getting so seriously good at it, I thought I'd publish the secrets to my success. A non-carer's guide in three easy lessons. My first hot tip is this:

Get an iPhone.

Yes, that's right, an iPhone. It really is the number one survival tool. Apart from the obvious like telephone, email, iPod, a camera, alarm clock, a calculator, maps, and a host of other astounding features, it also has Apps.

One of these has been particularly beneficical.

 But, I won't go into that tonight. The details are profound and, frankly, too overwhelming.

Just think on the i word and smile as you wait for my next installment.