School colours

Two image of author around age 6, one dressed up as Batman in the backyard, with gap teeth, pointing the batman at the camera, one in full formal portrait with school uniform looking angelic

I have been thinking about all the school leavers, celebrating, beginning or continuing jobs, waiting for results, and how so many years later startlingly clear memories of early days at school still come back to me. I look at photos of me now, and I can still see that school child, as well as the middle-aged person I am now. I see this same double image of friends I know from school as well. This is an aspect of time and memory that is so beautiful and strange. Perhaps it is a little like living in that fast growing body of a child, and looking down on the pencil marks and dates on the back of a door that recorded your height so recently. Feeling transformed over and over again; outgrowing clothes that still seemed new. So I thought I would share School Colours, which was published in the Canberra Times many years ago.

I also remembered School Colours when I saw Kurzel’s Macbeth  (you will see why). I recalled sitting in the cinema with my class mates and English teachers watching Polanski’s Macbeth, and being taken out of my everyday life onto a cold beach with the three weird sisters. It remains one of my great film going memories, when I felt my world crack open, and I found myself somewhere new (and somewhere very old).

Jack Frost’s fingers reach around the blackboard, touching the letters and numbers. His ice crown drips, the chalk snowflakes stick to his long blue nose. Stalactites (pull up your tights) grow along the bottom of the board. Our Kindergarten teacher draws the seasons. The blackboard monitor, duster trembling, reaches on tiptoe to erase Winter. Chalk flowers bloom in Miss Heath’s hands.

Brush rasp on shiny paper, the hairs bend into the surface. Blue sky, green grass, I bend low so they are all I can see. A red drop falls into the picture and bleeds into the sky and grass. I wipe my nose on my hand and the colour is there too. The colour from myself.

All the junior girls sit cross legged, giggling, hands on heads, teachers clap, and a Television rolls in. Television at school? In the middle of the day? It’s because of that man in the moon. Tiny men bounce, stopping lessons. One small step for a man … The moon is blue. The teachers say to remember this day. I will remember the big TV in the wooden box.

A picture of a a space suit with the authors reflection in the face shield, taking the photo

Self portrait in space suit at Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

North Sydney Olympic Pool, chlorine blue and salt eyes. Luna Park leers over the wall, at speedo cut crotches, escaping pubes, and breasts sizes A to E. Changing underneath a towel, skidding on the slimy floor, why am I on the end of the highest diving board, with a ladderful of laughing girls behind? The sky, the water, the air, impact, and sudden pain like the humiliation of a twanged bra strap.

Nobody goes into the end toilet. In there is a smoking incinerator, its door ajar, waiting. Everybody watches. Napkins in brown paper bags stuffed in lockers. Red stains. The reticent group of girls who don’t go swimming that week. A smeared pad in the middle of the floor, kicked under the desks.

Leaning forward into the mirror, I check that the blue halter bikini top shows, and undo another button to make sure it does. A hint of beach weekends, and boyfriends with long blonde hair, (nobody knows the bikini is home made.) Silver star sign around my neck, vaseline lips and eyelashes, strands of bleached hair, I wait at the bus stop alone, gripping my pass.

The teacher lays the drama out for us, ambition, betrayal, murder, the natural order turned and the elements exploding. She prowls the class conjuring the story so its poetry will be ours. It begins with the witches, on a cold beach, digging in the sand. They pull from the pit a blue fleshed hand, and ask ‘When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?’ We think our teacher is a witch, with her thick lips and dark hair. Does she sway naked in a fire lit cavern like these witches? In the coven I see a girl, her woman’s body newly formed.

The apple is my breakfast, my lunch. Dinner I eat while Mum watches. But the apple, its red skin, white flesh, is my desire for the day, all I will allow my body.

Blue eyeshadow heavy on her sculpted lids, white lipstick, leather mini, long red hair, leaning forward we devour every aspect of her. The disapproval of the Canteen Mothers whispers across the playground, as she explains dialectical materialism, perched on the edge of a desk.

Perhaps there was a story, with a line drawing it through, a thread pulled from the weft for embroidery to embellish. I remember the finger prick, the red stain on the white cloth, my incomplete patterns held up for ridicule.

At the reunion school-day fables are retold, all those triumphs and subversions, characters and jokes. The teachers we hated. I don’t really remember. Incidents shatter as I grow older. I see myself now as the persecuted teacher. A woman earning a hard living.

The mirror turns on itself, corridors of reflections, and a crowd assembles. After ten years the girls are women, each with a life carefully held together. I see the plain girl is beautiful, the stupid girl accomplished, the bright girl dull. But we pretend to be the same for this night, and we are told into a story again.

Afterwards I hold my intensely coloured pictures, my only true memories, and find another, and another within myself, then shuffle them away again. My hands reach out empty and open, at last ready to receive and understand the teachers’ gifts.

Sarah St Vincent Welch attended SCEGGS Redlands, Cremorne (Sydney) from 1966-78. For those 12 years she wore blue, and at night all her dreams were set in school. She was in Roseby house, whose colours were red and white.

 

 

Their heart beats … from this

A woman a man a woman their shadows cast against the wall a shadow play what is this she tells him faces him but I can’t hear I can’t hear can anyone hear what is it I can’t hear her and he turns from us so we can’t see his face. Is this what I think it is, this separation?

dancer

dancers_facing   The woman and man's shadows are tall against the wall and cast across images on the gallery wall of a man and mirror with water in its frame

They dip dip in time is it work a factory line are they making something is it preparation sustenance exercise manufacturing is she at a sink a conveyor belt a bench she gazes out to us as if through a window and she must see us we are so close and I see us some of us in her eyes her wide wide open eyes I don’t know what to do I want the woman and man to stop to be still but if we are all still and they are still what will there be? And the woman on the side sitting on a stool facing the audience is she excluded do I do we presume this? I worry for them oh I worry at so much work how it continues. Dip squat stir place back and up again down.

A woman in in a bright orange dress, it seems she is making something with repetitive movements over and over

Is she working, dancing, making … what is she thinking … ?

A large shadow of the woman with her arm raised a if she is working, making something

A man holds a glass of water for her to drink water, and she drinks

A member of the audience quenches her thirst

An audience might be happiest on the other side as that is where they know how to be but some join in as I did I did last time not knowing what to do now one blows their breath on the sweaty skin at the nape of her neck and then her forehead another brings her a glass of water but she gestures he should hold the glass for her to drink so there must be rules are they made in the moment or before for us to find what can happen what has been decided what is possible here?

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience comes forward to cool down and care for the performer

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

A member of the audience cools and soothes and gazes at the man

The child can disrupt her touch stops the working woman engages her response as there is no acting I believe here compassion in these moments for being and others want like I resolution being apart and then together again but this is is connection and a look is possible between the man and woman but not more any more not a touch only mirroring they stay apart face away only shadows touching the audience a bridge sometimes.

A child from the audience hugs the woman an makes her stop, the man till stands with his back to the audience

The child from the audience makes her pause and smile

The large shadows of a woman from the audience turning the woman and man's head so they look at each other

Looking

A woman from the audience danced with the man and they swayed together, I could see her smile and his possibly his smile reflected back to us through hers another made herself into a chair on hands and knees so he could sit with his back to us this balance held for a moment. One of the audience pleaded and we could hear what they said they seemed strange these words to me did they to others our words our want for their stillness our pleading and distress foreign and if they stopped if they stopped dipping working making even if it seems without meaning what could there be anymore? Voice in drum and wind shifting dipping with them working marrying us in space and song and violin holding us threading us, the still woman’s voice singing here I am here here I am … A woman in shadow with her head bowed down and eyes closed, singing Last time I stepped forward step after step and held the working woman opening my arms to see if I could and she stepped within them and I patted patted her back she was burning burning hot she and her heart beat beat beat fast in me fast and we swayed she like my child as her heart beat slowed slowed the drama of  uncertainty for me which is only mine it was her heart I felt in this and that I did not know her and I could still her her heart if she wanted was allowed to quiet to a resting beat and share relief it returned just then before I hesitated hesitant in how to leave.

I attended two performances of Little Dove Theatre Art’s ‘From This’ at the Canberra Museum and Gallery in association with their Pulse: Reflections on the Body exhibition. Very moved by the first performance, I was determined to return for the next one, and bring my family. Dylan Jones took the photos in this post. We were part of the rhizome of the audience, shadowy, close, subterranean, sprouting and blooming and connecting unexpectedly. I look forward to seeing or hearing how this project continues to develop and to Chenoah Miller‘s ‘Evangeline’ on soon in Canberra as part of Art Not Apart.

PULSE: reflections on the body

Pulse

 

he finds my pulse, pulse—

milk squirts—our—blood—drum—strum—his—

small hand— on my throat

I have a rather rapid heart rate and pulse rate that is most likely encouraged by high levels of caffeine. I found it embarrassing when I was at school when such things were measured in Sport and Science. (But then I think I found nearly everything at school embarrassing.) And I have caught myself wondering over that esoteric observation that everyone is allotted a certain number of heartbeats in this life; that this is predetermined. In my case, this is not comforting, I have been using mine up quite quickly.

a chalk drawing of a dalek saying recaffeinate outside a cafe

Always. And always with Dr Who reference. Thank you, Lonsdale St Roasters.

I went to the opening of an exhibition PULSE: reflections on the body last week at Canberra Museum and Gallery. I highly recommend it. Twenty-seven contemporary Australian artists are represented, and the public program involves performances, floor talks, and a seminar, and as you know I am jumping in by facilitating a writers workshop – Writing on the body on November 15, 12-5pm at CMAG. We will have some time to view the exhibition, and I will guide writers through exercises and games to respond to the exhibition and to discover and refine writing with/in/about/out of the body. I hope this will be the first of a series of guided writing workshops in response to exhibitions and collections at CMAG and around Canberra. Let’s see how this first one goes.

Write with a sense of the body. I have often offered this advice over my many years of creative writing teaching. This is not just about physical descriptions like hair colour or length or style, eye colour, height, or shape of your characters, but how they actually feel (or even not feel) in their bodies. The body is something we can all relate to, whatever our gender, culture, race, or other cultural definitions that accompany us, and if it is left out in crafting fiction or even poetry, something vital is most likely missing. I often find that this one piece of advice will lift a piece of writing to a new level, and often solve a number of other problems as well.

PULSE: Reflections on the body, is so rich, so stimulating, and so accessible. I really can’t do it justice in a little blog post. But I will engage with the exhibition in this space over the next weeks and invite anyone in town, nearby or passing through, to join my workshop, and more importantly, just go along and enjoy the exhibition. For the workshop book through the ACT Writers Centre, 02 6262 9191 or online https://app.formassembly.com/forms/view/10261

My haiku at the beginning of this post was inspired by Patricia Piccinini’s To fall under gravity, which I wondered over at the opening. This is the artist of Skywhale fame, and dear to many Canberrans’ hearts. In my first encounter with To fall under gravity it seems to me to be a series of floating nipples (or pimples) or they could even be air bubbles. They could be female or male nipples, and they are unassuming but also erotic, and quite plain, just ‘there’. Everyone I watched viewing it smiled, and some (like me) shoved their hands deeper in their pockets, resisting the urge to touch them. This exhibition actually affects your body. Of course it does. Can’t wait to be over this flu and cold (sniff)  and to get back to CMAG and Pulse. (I didn’t get the germ there, don’t worry! I got it at a dance class, or from my mum.)

ecard for Writing on the Body

 

Foot

Medical models of two feet, one with veins and tendons on cross section, and the other a skeleton

Don’t you love medical models of body parts?

 

I long for foot massages, and beg my loved ones anytime we are sitting down together and relaxing, to please rub my feet, to please manipulate the joints and stretch the tendons. In general they kindly comply. I don’t think good feet run in my family (sorry for the pun). I have suffered a lot of pain over the last few years that has meant I have had to stand up a great deal, and now my feet are the sore points. I pore over pictures of foot anatomy and try to locate the exact points of trouble. They have been x-rayed, ultra sounded and injected, and they still hurt to blazes. Massaging can make them better, and can also make them worse, but it is a risk I’m happy to take as it is sheer bliss in the moment.

I have always considered my feet as a point of distinction, as I have two webbed toes on both feet, and whenever I am asked that ‘getting to know you question’ in a class, Is there anything special about you?, I always reveal  the duckiness of my toes. Do you remember those great scenes in Local Hero when the marine scientist, Marina, (played by Jenny Seagrove) randomly emerges from the bay in her wetsuit like a Venus, and then later when Oldsen massages her foot and discovers her webbed toes? (He is played by a young Peter Capaldi, the latest Dr Who incarnation.) Mermaid heritage, I have always believed.

Writing about ‘the body’ has always interested me. Creatively, I have found this preoccupation rich and engaging. It is somewhere we can connect, through our senses, through the rhythms of our flesh, our creatureliness, our pain, our sexuality, our being. It has become an area of research for me as well, the place of body in philosophy and how it is represented in literature. But more of that later.

I remembered a piece I wrote, Foot, that was published in Body lines: a women’s anthology edited by Jillian Bartlett and Cathy Joseph, published by Womens Redress Press in 1991, and thought it was time it got its socks off and came out for an airing. So here it is.

FOOT 

I hold a foot, freshly washed, with dirt ingrained in the whorls of its sole. The flesh of the toes is soft like fruit. I bite it and the skin is powdery and white, but smooth. The sensitive arch cringes, and I hold it firmly as the foot wrenches in the air, and we laugh. It is the foot of a city walker, a pattern of callous, ridges the shape of shoes.

But this foot is made for wandering over plains, for long stretches of earth, for hills. It is made for me to kiss and bite. The toes fit perfectly in my mouth. They only just fit shoes, and they make holes in socks.

I separate the metatarsals, the delicate long bones and ligaments. Remember your foot when you were a child I say, it was like a hand, flexible and playful. Feet at rest and relaxed, relaxes the whole body, and your mind. Toes, their strangely different lengths separate, and manipulated, are free and grasping. The fluid in the joints flow, they rotate.

* She bites my foot again and the pain is so beautiful I nearly kick her in the face and fall off the chair. I can’t stop laughing until she digs her nails in and then massages the sole. She says my feet are dirty even though I just washed them. I don’t care. Remember your foot when you were a child she says. She captures my foot like a fish, trying to slither away. *

I am the massage. My hands and the foot are covered in oil, like they’re ready to be cooked. She kicks the bottle of oil over and it sinks into the carpet. Heat and cold pass between skin. Soft skin, rough skin, the two parts, hand and foot, manipulator and runner. The foot of a dancer. The foot of a singer. Touches the ground, heel and side and each toe in turn. And again, hips swaying, stamp after stamp. I feel the dance in this captured foot. I feel them dangling from a tree, about to touch the ground. I twist it and she loves it.

The other foot is less sensitive and more stubborn, it avoids my teeth. Like grains of earth under the skin, I can feel grit in the sole, small painful pebbles on which she walks. I draw the toes out, pulling them till the joints separate gently. Run my knuckles over the sole, into it. I bend the foot back, and pull it forward. She is almost asleep. I release the foot, the reflection of the body. Her mind is still as I put it down. We rest our feet together, sole against sole.
………………………………………………..

It is good to imagine pain free feet! It is interesting to look back over your writing and to come to understand your preoccupations, what your work might be ‘about.’ “The body’ definitely is important to me.

There is an exhibition about ‘the body’, just opened at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, Pulse: Reflections on the Body. I am running a writing workshop on Saturday November 15 in the afternoon, where you can view the exhibition and write with me and in a group in response to the exhibition. If you are a local or nearby you are most welcome. It is being run in association with the ACT Writers Centre, and you book through them.

ecard for Writing on the Body

Writers Workshop: Writing on the body

with Sarah St Vincent Welch

12pm–5pm Saturday 15 November

Discover how developing a sense of ‘the body’ can take your writing to a new level. Explore the exhibition Pulse: Reflections on the body, at Canberra Museum and Gallery, through writing, with Sarah and a group of fellow writers. Be inspired by visual art and learn ways to bring your writing to life. This guided and immersive workshop caters for all forms, and will include writing exercises and games, time to view the exhibition, and time to write and discuss. Follow up material to encourage participants to continue writing will also be provided.

Sarah St Vincent Welch is a creative writing facilitator with over fifteen years of experience. She received a citation from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council for ‘devising playful writing spaces that surprise, stimulate and support creative writing students to write and keep writing.’ Her short fiction has been published and anthologised, and has won the Marjorie-Graber McInnes Short Story Award twice. She won the inaugural Marian Eldridge Award, and The Jessie Litchfield Award. Sarah is interested in leading a continuing guided writing workshop that responds to exhibitions and collections.

Venue: ACT Writers Centre workshop room
Code: All
Cost: $54 members, $48 concessional members, $84 non-members (includes 6 months of membership)
Bookings: You can book by phone on 6262 9191, online or at the office. Payment is required at time of booking.

In the shadow of the Equinox, a blood moon

A full moon with a reddish orange cast in the night sky

The Lunar eclipse or blood moon in the Canberra night sky 8 October, 2014 (photo by Dylan Jones)

 

 An Invitation to Write

Late is a concept that depends on another one, that of being on time. And yes, my Equinox ‘Invitation to write’ post is late, and let’s hope it is like a late period in its out of timeness, with the associated promises of a birth, or a shedding, a release, or of cycles slightly out of kilter and then renewed. I don’t know. This time seems significant. In my life. In humanity’s life. In the life of mother earth.

I just had a wedding, a glorious experience, but also confronting, and the culmination of over a year of planning with my loved ones. A dear friend died a week before the wedding, and we went to her celebration of life on a bright and sunny hilltop the day before we got married, just as our relatives from all around the country were arriving. I feel so grateful to have known her and that I was able to say goodbye.

So a little after the Equinox I am reflecting in its shadow, and looking for what might be inspiring to write about. There is so much, almost too much, life is full, wild and lovely, so how to choose from this richness?

 

mysterious shadows on the ground

I love taking photos of shadows while out walking

Our marriage was a civil one and it involved telling those with us who we are, and it also involved making a ceremony together that we then shared. As people who are not usually in the centre of things, it was an unusual place to be. It was new.

We probably aren’t the most naturally graceful folk, but we decided to learn a small dance to share with our loved ones before everyone was invited onto the dance floor after the wedding. And we managed it. We remembered the steps, enough. And so so enjoyed it. And we were surprised at how much we enjoyed learning the dance. We even practiced in the empty aisle of a supermarket.

A few days after our wedding we danced it in the open at night, under a blood moon. I think we will be dancing that dance again, anywhere we can.

Do you have any small rituals or celebrations that you have created that mark the rhythm of your lives? Would you like to write about them and share them? Post them in the comments section of this post if you would like to share one, or even two, and I will publish them in a later post, or however it seems right. Consider writing about a personal ritual or celebration in your own blog and telling me you have so I can enjoy it! I would love to read about them.

Dylan Jones made a time lapse of the lunar eclipse and I am sharing it with you here. It is made up of five hours worth of photos taken at five minute intervals on a cold Spring night in Canberra, Australia. I am fascinated by the sense of spinning. Check out all the information from NASA. How blessed are we, with this knowledge and beauty? Let’s all look up at the moon tonight.

Letters to the past – an invitation to write

row-of-boxes-at-Watson

Today is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Last night I walked around    Lake Burley Griffin, and the energy was the opposite to what I had imagined, leading up to this shortest day of the year. Instead of feeling hunkered down and small, I felt enlivened, expansive and playful. From under Kings Ave Bridge I watched the lights on the water as cyclists hurtled past, and fellow solstice seekers strolled by in the shadows, the week’s work behind them, on their way to the weekend and all its promise, so near to the turning point of the year, feeling the tilt of the earth. I do feel introspective though, as well as energetic, and it is a great feeling.

I would like to share some letters l wrote a little while ago. The shortest day of the year seems to be saying something about time to me, and it has reminded me of these letters, these fragments. A student asked me to write about teaching, for an anthology they were editing. I preferred to turn it around and write about the experience of being taught, instead, and acknowledge those continuing connections with teachers through memories and emotions. Students, teachers, we are all the same really, learning together, in my view. My student didn’t end up using the the letters for their project, but I was glad I wrote them. At the time I called the little series Primary and Secondary.  The letters are not the sort to be sent, most of the people I was writing to are dead. I felt compelled to write to them anyway.  (In The New Diary, Tristine Rainer writes of the ‘unsent letter,’ as a useful technique in journal or diary writing. I love this thoughtful book, I recommend to anyone keeping a journal, or wanting to practice writing.) It just occurred to me  that in a way I am sending the letters, by including them in this post, by ‘posting’ them. Why not? The first four are to primary school teachers, and the last is to a high school teacher.

Dear Mrs Sinclair,

Thank you again for writing to me. I know I sent you a card at the time, but I feel I have to write again.

When I read your letter, I imagined you flipping through ‘She’s a train and she’s dangerous‘ in the book store (probably in the feminist or women’s writing section) and recognising my name and reading ‘In the House Alone’. (In my mind I still look up at you as if I was a child. I stand by you, waiting.) Your letter made me remember school and teachers and I often recall that care you took to contact me. You know I like to write in fragments. And you have a literary bent, so you wouldn’t mind the epistolary form of this little letter/narrative. The fact that you remembered me when you saw my name or read my story really touched me and I often think of that.

I remember you taking us to Liggins – and the primary school library (which was in a room next to the hall), and how special that was, walking through the rows of books, the bookcases at child height, and the wonder of it, the library card, the blue stamp, the book to take home in my library bag. I remember lining up at your desk to receive my next reading card, wondering what colour it would be.

 I have been teaching for awhile now, and though I mainly teach adults, it is my school teachers I often recall when reflecting on teaching. I remember the weave of the cloth on the sleeve of your jacket as you paused beside my desk, watching me write and copy. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, For thou art with me …’ I remember your greying hair, the smell of your face powder, your poise …

 

Dear Mrs MacDonald,

 Thanks for reading to us in the afternoon. The sorrow and love of The Incredible Journey still rises within me, forty years later, and the memory of the hot open windowed afternoons of our story time, and your voice in the stillness after the busy morning. I remember your stories that weren’t from books as well, about the Vikings and their Long Boats and how Germany couldn’t invade England but they did in those boats, and about Nature and God’s perfection, and Man’s imperfection.

 Mrs Mac, I remember the end of year afternoon tea at your house, your shadowy cottage, the cakes on the table, the wild heavy blooms at your front door as we stood on tip toes to ring the front door bell …

 Dear Mrs Newell,

 I remember your authority, your thin wiry way, your tight curls gliding above the song of the times tables. Do you remember the arm that rose unexpectedly from the centre row – and the question – ‘What happens to a child when they die?’ You gave such a certain answer – ‘They go straight to heaven,’ you said. Your voice was so clear and certain. What peace you gave me! I wonder, were you asked that question very often?

 And Mrs Newell, you had a pool! And a pool party! We floated there at the end of the year. After our parents left, your pale daughter sat in the shade sipping coke, in her bikini and dark glasses, her white hair shining, as we lolled and splashed … 

Dear Miss Heath,

I’ve written about you before, and now I want to write to you. I think of you, Miss Heath. I think of your back and up stretched arm as you drew on the blackboard at the beginning of each season. You were in the classroom early, framing the lessons on that giant blackboard, with summer’s breaking waves and spray, with autumn ‘s burnt leaves, winter’s ice cave of blue and white and spring’s chalky tulips, spring’s bursting leaves. And in the frame of your art must have been our introduction to words and numbers and grown up time, (the day, the date, the month, the year).

 I realise now you were an artist. At the reunion Miss Stuart told me. ‘Oh, she died’. Your horn rimmed glasses and French knot or your soft hair falling on your shoulders when it was out, were beyond the ken of the Canteen Mothers and their perms – and you rated as a plain (single) woman, (very kind) – a kindergarten teacher. The pleat of your skirt brushes my shoulder as I sit cross-legged and you lean down to turn the page with me.

 I lined up with my big sister at the New Theatre to buy the tickets to a play she wanted to see, and there you were selling them at the box office. My mother was glad you had something to do on the weekend. I remember your smile …

 Dear Mrs Plimer,

I think you may still be alive and not that far away— that is a good feeling. It is nearly ten years since I spoke to you. I rang you during the bush fires to see if you needed help. I knew the fire was heading towards you. Dear woman, you were packing the car with your research, and were about to leave. You were prepared and strong. When help is needed we try to give it. For weeks you arrived at my house in the morning and helped me into the front seat, put my crutches into the back of your car, and then drove me to school. They were fun weeks of being late to class, careening down halls on my crutches, of healing from my accident, of people making a fuss of me. I think now, looking back, you were helping my mother. She was (and is) strong, but others must have seen her need, that she was alone. I remember small gestures, friends stepping forward to help, your care.

with love

Sarah

For this Winter Solstice ‘Invitation to Write,” write a letter to a teacher. (Hopefully a fond one!) Or to someone from the past that you think of. I’d love to read them. Post them to the comments section, and if you like we can publish them together in a later post. Or write it just for yourself, and them – see what happens.

red-letter-box

 

 

 

 

An Invitation to Write – Swimming

Very pale green ripply water and if you look carefully you can see grey fish.

In the shallows. Can you see the fish? Northbridge Baths.

I’ve been finding writing a bit difficult lately, how to start, how to continue, well pretty much everything about it. Same old story, eh? But if I cast back over the last three months I notice I have started a number of poems and short stories and some words are there and some of them are okay. That is not as bad as I thought it was. Phew.

I once went to a workshop with the poet Lucy Dougan, and she recounted the memories of her sculptor father, who regularly made maquettes out of sand on the beach, and then destroyed them. The lesson was that he viewed it all as practice and to not feel worried about not continuing and not completing everything, that it is acceptable to start many things and explore them and to not always feel committed to completion. That is how I understood it. I have been to many writing workshops and seminars over the years, and somehow that piece of advice seemed significant to me. So remembering this I will look back over my fragments and consider them, and sweep them away and start again if needs be, like practice sculptures in the sand.

I went swimming yesterday, just in Civic Pool.  (I have just discovered it is actually called Canberra Olympic Pool, which is a bit grander.) If locals asked you where you had gone swimming, I think many people would just say, Civic Pool, so I can be excused. Civic is the term used for the central area of Canberra. I was surprised the outside pool was still open, as it is now Autumn.  I’ve been wanting to exercise more and swimming is my favourite way; I hate getting hot and sweaty (despite my Running on Lava post),  though I did love the humidity in the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a different sort of hot and sweaty than inland Australia, which is peculiarly itchy and irritating (for me at least). Living inland precludes swimming in the sea very often, which is where I prefer to paddle, so I have had to get used to the local public swimming pools, over the years.

Darker, almost ultramarine blue water, with the sun making lighter shades

Deeper water, Northbridge Baths

My childhood local swimming hole, Northbridge Baths, was and still is a magical place. I visited The Baths recently after decades and couldn’t believe they had not changed (except there were a few more yachts around). Northbridge Baths are modest, a little difficult to walk to, down a very steep hill, and are a bit hidden by gardens and houses. They are a tidal pool, and the larger body of water they are part of is known as Middle Harbour. It is the colour of the water that stays with me, or should I say, colours of the water. Within just a few meters, the shades move from palest aqua to deepest ultramarine.

We also swam at North Sydney Olympic Pool for school swimming lessons. This pool is framed by Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is next to Luna Park, and its famous open-mouthed entrance peers over the walls into the pool (or at least it does in my memory, the logistics of that don’t quite add up, to be truthful about it, but it is just next door to the pool). It is a magical place too. The Cha-Cha ride veered close to the pool wall, and screams from riders sometimes rose with the loops and turns of the Cha-Cha as we shivered in the water, blowed bubbles, and practiced mouth-to-mouth on the rough concrete in that earnest mime of resuscitation.  I went on the Cha-Cha a few times, and could see into the pool as we swung towards it through the air. Or is this just how my memory has pieced these places and experiences together? A fire in the Ghost Train ride closed Luna Park for several years and I remember Luna Park strange and derelict as well, as it was opened and closed a number of times after that. I remember walking around its desolate perimeter. These memories add to the magic.

Civic Pool doesn’t quite have the ambience of The Baths and North Sydney Pool. But I think any swimming experience evokes something in me about childhood and a sense of rare freedom that swimming gave me as a child. The rhythmic movement through water, the stretching, the immersion, being so other to the walking about the world self, and being in a group of people, often strangers, who have willingly stripped off and are doing a similar thing, continues to fascinate me.

Recently I found out an old friend I reconnected with at a reunion, who used to swim at Northbridge Baths as well, writes a beautiful blog called Swimming Pool stories. One of my favourites. She is even more fascinated than me!

I love to ‘people watch’ at the pool. Yesterday I watched a man holding his baby, walking on the grass, so happy together, following a duck.  A little girl sunbathed on the bare concrete beside the pool, lying like a fallen statue. I watched young boys negotiate which diving board to spring from, a careful dance played out over twenty minutes, testing each one and each other, and young bikinied girls standing on the edge of the pool tentatively testing the cold, their little brothers ranging around them.  So much of it is about quietly negotiating space and territory.

Freed from the lanes of the lap pool, I didn’t swim straight up and down as usual, but did a few diagonals and curves, and backtracked. My friend enjoyed trying to touch the bottom. It was a deep pool. It is designed for diving. I like to swim slowly, but enjoy when the spirit of play is still within my friends and they are curious, and we splash a little and laugh.

So for this Equinox’s Invitation to Write, let’s write about Swimming. Any aspect of it. Even if you don’t swim, if you hate it, or would like to do it but don’t know how. Be lateral how you interpret it. Wading around will do! Dipping your feet in! Write freely and just enjoy it. I will look forward to how you want to contribute. Just post your writing in the comments, and we may have a conversation. Let’s see what happens. Here is my spontaneous offering, living in my memory of swimming at The Baths as a child.

Dipping below and diving, I hold myself under for one bursting breath, open my eyes to this darker refracted place, the sun and this breathe bubbling on the surface, which I rise, rise to break through. 

Oh, and that is another little bit of writing. I wonder if it is the beginning of a maquette, or if it will form something else one day?

The water is greener here with a strip of darker green and a pattern on the edges of the strip

A shadow, Northbridge Baths