The author of this piece is a dear friend. ‘This is still our Sydney’ is her personal account of December 15 & 16, 2014. We met up last weekend never imagining the terrible events to come. Among the many grabs and soundbites since the shock of the Sydney siege, many people rush to write about their feelings about the day. It’s allowed of course but the results are often mawkish. This piece isn’t. It is simply one person’s powerful and unbroken story of Sydney this week. I recommend it.
It’s Monday morning and I’m running late. Walking late. It’s twenty minutes to ten when I turn left from Phillip St into Martin Place.
I don’t look at the Lindt cafe as I pass. My eyes are focused on the Channel Seven news ticker. I can’t remember now what it says but I’m sure Michael Clarke’s hamstring features somewhere.
I love Martin Place, its wide indulgent promenade and its buildings that speak of other times. I always take a moment to breathe it in.
Man Haron Monis is only minutes away. This morbid chapter is already unfolding. By the time I settle at my desk, he has entered the Lindt cafe. The lives of seventeen people going about the mundane business of ordering and serving coffee are now forever changed.
Before long, a large TV screen in our office is showing static…
This is a post by a dear friend and writing friend Christina Houen. I have come to know Christina’s story through our ‘writing’ meetings where we provide support and feedback on current projects. I hope in time many of you will read her story.
In 2011 I was short-listed for the Finch memoir prize 2012, for my memoir of childhood. I have since revised that memoir, which is still unpublished. It is now called This Place You Know. I have included my mother’s voice in it. In the revision, I’ve been encouraged and supported by my dear friend and writing buddy, Marian Edmunds. I decided not to re-enter this for the Finch this year, as they have what I consider a rather outdated requirement that the memoir be written as ‘told by its subject in his or her own voice’. Since I have woven my mother’s voice in with mine, this may rule me out.
So I have entered my revised memoir of my early adult life and first marriage and its sequel, the abduction of my children by their father. This was a traumatic time which split my life in two…
“It’s a beautiful day, you could be swimming but you’re here. Thank you,” said British writer, broadcaster and activist, Jeanette Winterson as she started her keynote address at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2014.
And before long we were immersed, in Winterson’s stories of storytelling.
“When we meet, we meet on the steps of a story,” and Winterson, whose first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was published in 1991, went on to list the ways stories start. “Have you heard the one about?”
And she reminds us that stories were around long before books. Stories are not only for readers, “We meet on the street and the smallest exchange becomes a narrative.”
“Humans didn’t create language to say, “Honey can you pass me the spear?”
“If you think about language beginning in the mouth rather than before it hits the page, because speech is far older than…
The first peace … came in first moments of knowing the danger had passed. There would be other dangers but they were for another day. All clear.
For a while it had been scary. Could she leave enough for them if she had to go?
She wanted to see them through. Any mother would.
For a while she had been the angel of her suburb, a wonder, a miracle for coping so well, an inspiration, for taking it in her stride, for taking so much on at such a time.
Suddenly, she did not sweat the small stuff. How little they knew, and she made sure to keep it that way. But one day, on an institutional couch in a room with a square window filled by a swirl of leaves and branches, a word or two delivered with measured compassion tugged her and all that had been so neatly buttoned up poured out. A few minutes later she applied lipstick and stepped back into her bravado. She liked this feeling, that she might conquer anything, and of feeling that the normal irritations could not touch her, would wash over her, and of the many plans she had for ‘after this time’. She would achieve so much, and give so much, and never be ordinary again. But she was…
This is written on Mothers Day in some parts of the world. Happy Mothers Day to all and particularly those without their mothers today.
It was prompted by writing a prompt, “The First Peace…” from Writing From The Soul sent by Jane Brunette today. It is always a welcome addition the the in-box. I use prompts if my mind has been busy and my writer soul has been out of action.
David Ades was a friend met once only in a cafe at an hour not as late as it felt. I’d been to the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival launch party, and with no dinner plans, needed something warm to fill the spaces canapés had not reached. I walked along Jonson St, Fletcher, Lawson in the cold seeking a place and eventually spotted a warm glow at end of an open air arcade.
The café staff were starting to clear up but a few people arrived, a woman in stark white Indian cotton ordering a takeaway, and a young man. We talked.
I didn’t know his name them but I had noticed David sitting at the next table in dark clothes that must have held stories of many nights and cities. I noticed his hair too, silvery white, back into a pony tale. He was focused on eating.
David heard the woman in white speak to us of healing and spoke to her, something about cancer. My ears pricked up, I have my story. Her food ready, she left. David resumed his meal.
The young man had asked if he could join me for dinner. He had written a children’s book about the environment and planned to scale the barriers of the writers’ festival to show it to someone. I am pitching my novel to a live audience and three publishers and I’m nervous, I told him.
David spoke to me right then and I turned to see his blue eyes. He said he’d heard me speak about pitching and unfurled the story of his Dad, Joe, who had been a pitchman in New York City that people came from all over to see. He always wore a three piece suit and Union Square was one of favourite places to pitch. In the evenings Joe would go home to his fourth wife on the Upper East Side and would have a steak at a fine restaurant, every night. By the time David told me this my lentils had arrived, glowing and golden in a white bowl.
Joe’s merchandise was always the same thing, said David, and he did this for decades. The item sold at $5. It was a potato peeler that you will never find in a store. Joe Ades was The Potato Peeler Guy and when he died the New York Times his obituary. David urged me to read about his father on his website. I will, I said.
Oh hey, I wrote a story in a New York literary travel anthology last year [City Pick New York], I said.
I’d like to read that book, he said.
That can be arranged, I said.
We said goodbye and I felt gratitude that the uncertainty of this evening had led me to these people in that place. I awoke the next morning feeling buoyant, and carried the warmth of David’s story about his dad, Joe, the pitch man, into my own pitch that went so well that complete strangers approached me afterwards. My mood soared for a week or more.
When I had a chance to look up DavidAdesMusic.com and saw those blue eyes gazing out, I found out he not only played saxophone, he was one of the world’s finest. He never said. Naturally.
He’d had an album, out that year, recorded in New York City, David Ades & friends, A Glorious Uncertainty, and when I saw the cover with the front section of a yellow cab I smiled. The book I hoped to get to him had the back section of a yellow cab on its cover.
Soon after I found out he had lung cancer and was undergoing treatments, and I realised I’d heard something of this as he spoke with the woman in white.
We exchanged some Facebook messages. I wanted to get the book to him. “We could swap the CD and the book,” he said. “Sounds good,” I said. He said he was playing at Bangalow with Galapagos Duck. “Do you remember them? Or we could always use the good old postal system.” I saw the message too late for the gig. We never made the swap. It didn’t matter. The best swap was made in that hour we spent and for that I am glad.
Farewell David Ades.
Perfect Day has been on automatic replay in my head this past day since the news Lou Reed had passed away. The cover of this tune that stands out in my memory was played on a clear blue June Saturday in Mountsfield Park, London. People’s Day. A jobbing muso of whiskered jaw in black uniform playing guitar under trees to weekend flower children, jigging toddlers, people yearning something or someone never reached, remembering things that never quite were. Remembering flashes of fun. We sing along. Together. Weekenders on our own.
Was it the 444,000th cover of Perfect Day ever made?
A reggae beat rolls up the hill to warn it will be in charge from sunset.
I rarely carried a cameras in the 1990s. It is clear in the big screen inside my head. I wish there was a kind of camera that could take the image in my mind and show it to you. It would show you the plant stall on the left as you came in, the crumbling outbuildings, the craft stalls, and the cakes liquefying even in the shade, flowered icing smearing. It would show you young love. Problems all left alone. It would show you the children in spangly costumes, it’s such fun. It would show you buggies laden with goodies and babies, smiling, sleeping and squirming. It would show you the cream of London apiarists, who for five minutes would make you think of keeping bees. It would show you the tiny stream train and driver, a portly Gulliver. It would show you the tables of ezy cleaning products, and dolls in crinolines with toilet paper petticoats that will do another twirl at a boot fair soon. It would show you old love. It would show you chutneys and pickles with floral covers, and it would show you the donkeys and falcons. Just a perfect day feed animals in the zoo.
The event started with a literary speed dating event which meant standing in sometimes lengthy lines to spend five minutes with an agent or publisher. It was a fruitful. My intention was to meet publishers and agents to see about sending them one work and to gauge their interest for another work in progress. Happily achieved plus I discussed a work I hadn’t planned to discuss.
I have brought 18 books to go in the book shop. I noticed the book stand is far from the coffee and rest rooms so I don’t think people had much time to look. Hoping not to take all 18 books on the plane home. (Went home 4 books lighter.)
There were some stirring speeches. I enjoyed Anna Funder who was scathingly about all of those people who want us to ‘just write’ a 200 or 300 words for no payment. Michael Fraser AM issued a call to arms on copyright, Susan Johnson @sjreaders whose books I had read years even before meeting in London at a mutual friend’s barbecue, Antony Loewenstein (who says so many people want to write the same as others which is dull) and Angelo Loukakis with a gift for summing up. Tom Keneally’s video was jolly in his pink Fiji shirt with some magnificent swirly wallpaper behind him.
There was a dinner too. Not some office-Christmas-party-sort-of-debauched-and-shop-talk dinner butsomething that was fun. No business cards, no need to say what you were working on. Just some fun with the tribe. Good to catch up briefly with Anne Summers who was resplendent in her Julia Gillard interview outfit.
I could probably have done with some more sleep but I am enjoying writing in this little room with a view. I like the glimpse of the harbour near the Anzac Bridge and the ‘Rear Window’ view of the lives in the apartments nearby. The shirtless man smoking on the balcony. The dinner party. I’ve made a note of the room number. I may be back.
Marian (MJ) Edmunds
P.S Kate Forsyth was the stand out for inspiration. More on that and more soon #asa2020
MJ Edmunds This piece was submitted to the Australian literary journal Griffith Review for its Now We Are Ten edition, one of several submissions I’ve sent. My first submission to GR was published. GR’s reply appears at the end of the piece.
Now she is 10, the girl who came as a surprise and saved her mother’s life. There’s something there, said the obstetrician, I’ve referred you. ‘Unlikely to be benign’, said the urologist one Thursday afternoon in one of those singular moments when someone is speaking of cancer, and you.
Ten years on I am still here and she is 10 with dark chocolate eyes, hair shiny, untarnished by colorants. How do I help someone this lovely get on in this world?
She rushes in late one afternoon, back from her friends, tears forming. ‘I always do good things and am never rewarded.’ Her friends received thank you gifts for helping at the shop. She was away that day, only that day, when the rewards were handed out.
I smiled for I had said the same thing the other day. That I keep writing but there seems never to be reward. Eventually I recall what I know but too often forget that reward is found not from others but in the accomplishment and in creation. But she is 10. How do I say this to her, help? She wants what she wants and wants it now.
Now she is 10 and it’s too soon to know these things so I can only watch and do the best I can to ease the way, and be there to hold her when the agony is great. Now she is 10 and on email and Instagram and networks with names my brain cannot retain. At 10 I was riding my bike and playing cricket in the park. She hates cricket. What are Australian childhoods coming to?
Now she is 10. She has BFFs, some new girls, and some go back to pre-school days, and like the The Biggest Loser scoreboard one supplants another constantly as the best BFF. They’re in, and they’re out over spurious claims, and particular treats, each apprised of their status the second it changes. Shrugs or tears follow and declarations of never speaking again and then next day they are BFFs again.
“Oh I thought you and [insert name] were great friends,” I say. She gives me the You Don’t Know Anything glower, that is not only a glower but withering to boot.
‘Maybe you don’t need to tell a friend they are your ‘best’ BFF every hour, and just accept they are a very good friend, and sometimes they are close, or sometimes they are busy. Remember when you were busy.
‘Maybe one of your friends thought you weren’t their friend any more but you were just busy’
‘Cool, she says. Later that evening there’s a re-alignment in the constellation of the BFFs.
One wet day in the holidays I ask her if she wants to go shopping. The answer to that question is invariably yes. I ask why the long face?
BFF [far away cousin] is being mean and doesn’t want to talk [Skype] to me, she says.
‘It can happen like that when you’ve chatted for seven hours in two days I say. Give it a rest today.’
‘But it’s not fair, I wasn’t mean.’
‘Can we see happy you back soon please?’
Ten years since she changed me: saved me. Ten years of making me smile, and burst with pride, and of loving her laugh, easily the most delightful sound in the world.
I try to picture her 10 years from now and how to help in the transition to being a young woman. She is already good and kind and lovely. Even other people tell me so, unprompted. I want her to feel rewarded, to know how to live a good and meaningful life and be happy. Will I be able to do enough? Now she is 10.
GRIFFITH REVIEW COMMENT: I think you capture perfectly the rolling emotions parents feel for their young children. Your daughter sounds lovely and a lifesaver in more ways than one. Your piece is not what we’re looking for this time round, though, with the 10th anniversary edition more focused on the underlying forces that will shape the next decade and the challenges ahead, rather than personal reflections. Please do keep us in mind for future submissions. I always enjoy reading your work.
MY COMMENT: The next decade and the challenges ahead are at the front of my mind too now she is 10 (just turned 11). My feedback to self is I would like to add another anecdote at the end of the story. Perhaps I haven’t because that event hasn’t happened yet. But GR’s comment was correct as my ‘daughter is a lifesaver in more ways than one’.
She is a BFF of more than a decade whose status can never be challenged.
Welcome to The Paradigm Shuffle. I had a newspaper column of my own when I was 19 years old, some time before blogging and the Internet ever existed (which is a mercy). I didn’t know how lucky I was. I write and edit business and corporate material and work with writers at The Writing Business. I write for major newspapers and had a long career with newspapers in Australia, Hong Kong and the UK. I am very glad of it and all that I learned, the places travelled to and within, and most of all the people. I occasionally write personal pieces in the newspapers that usually attract (positive) mail. I’ve co-authored a self-help book that can help you see that you are all as you are, if only you knew it! It is intended to help you see and enjoy this with very little reading and without a list of impossible rules.
In 2011 I wrote a memoir piece, ‘Blue, Blue Sky’ in the literary travel anthology, city-pick New York. It felt like an honour as my story appeared alongside excerpts from that Great Gatsby man and Jonathan Franzen and so many more. In April 2013, my tale of the Turkish bath ‘Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush’ appeared in City-pick Istanbul. It features Orhan Pamuk of course but it’s a great way to discover many of Turkey’s great writers all in one little book.
What else is there? I write novels and short stories this blog will explore that path of oh so hard work and my ongoing grappling with that. So this is my column circa the noughties. Welcome.
The P.S. Thanks to Monica Marcil for helping me to arrive at the title The Paradigm Shuffle.