Into the Silence

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Stepping out of her midnight blue corolla at ten pm, Abigail’s sneakered feet instantly sunk into the wet clay.

“For fuck’s sake.” She muttered.

She walked across the car park on the balls of her feet, unsteady like a toddler taking his first steps. Her heavy bag swung about her shoulder threatening to throw her off balance with each step.

At the back entrance of Oaklands Aged Care Facility, Abigail wiped her shoes against the jutted-out bricks of a nearby window pane, leaving globs of sand-coloured clay pasted to the edge. It would dry there, making Jim the groundskeeper furious when he sees it. Abigail chuckled to herself imagining the old codger in his wide brimmed hat and khaki green shirt cursing at anyone who would listen about having to hose that whole facade down and then having to clean the window with spray and wipe to get rid of the water marks. Like the residents cared if there were water stains on the glass. Most of them couldn’t even see past their own noses.

At the doorway, Abigail lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, filling her lungs with a final injection of nicotine for the night. She was down to only four smokes and after this packet, there would be no more. Daisy had become increasingly vocal about Abigail’s smoking, ever since her principal died suddenly of cancer. Abigail’s daughter couldn’t possibly understand the difficulty in giving up something you’d done for more than twenty years. But, for Daisy’s sake, Abigail was willing to try.

With her final exhalation, Abigail watched the smoke cloud above her head before dissipating into the night air. The staleness of smoke hung like an invisible aura as she swiped her keycard and pushed through the door.

In the staff room Pete sat at the computer tapping away on the keyboard.

“You’re late.” He said without looking up.

Abigail glanced at her watch. It was true, she did walk in a few minutes after ten, but Pete had no right to call her on it. He was just a carer like her, not a manager or even a nurse.

Ignoring his remark Abigail asked, “Where’s Toni?”

“She’s been here for fifteen minutes already. She’s helping Sandy put Dora to bed. She had another fall today.”

Abigail chewed her bottom lip, resisting the urge to snap at Pete for letting Toni do his job for him. He was on the afternoon shift with Sandy, it was his responsibility to finish up the arvo tasks and then hand over to the night team. But if Toni wanted to take on the extra unpaid work, that was her problem, Abigail reasoned. She walked past Pete to the lockers and threw her bag into an empty hole.

Abigail left the staff room without saying anything more to Pete and made her way to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. She would wait until he and Sandy had left before catching up with Toni and checking the hand-over log.

Stirring sugar into her tea Abigail couldn’t help but mull over Pete’s remarks. She had decided long ago that she didn’t like any of her colleagues. If they weren’t snitching on one another to Barb, they were cavorting together like a gaggle of teenaged girls, always gossiping about someone. If it weren’t for the connections she had made with many of the residents, Abigail doubted she would still be working as a carer. She found their stories – though repetitive – fascinating. Old Dora has been a women’s rights activist in the seventies, and even Frank, though rough and completely sexist, loved a good yarn about his time in the war. It was all amazing to Abigail, who, even though she had spent years traveling around Australia with her ex-husband, Marty, felt as though she had barely even left the small town of Oaklands.

With her milky sweet tea in hand, Abigail made her way back to the staff room. The sensor lights flickered as she traversed the thickly carpeted space, highlighting the faded walls in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. A television chattered in muted tones from a distant room, keeping someone company as the rest of the floor slept.

Rounding a corner of the passageway Abigail saw a grey figure hunched over a walker. He wore old slippers that dragged against the carpet as he shuffled. An olive green dressing gown was draped over his curved shoulders.

“Frank!” Abigail called.

The old man kept shuffling, leaning heavily forward. As she caught him up Abigail touched his shoulder lightly. He stiffened what little muscle remained of his upper arms and swivelled his head toward her, eyes wide like a cat startled by a loud noise.

“What?” He growled.

“Where are you off to at this time of the night, Frank?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Well, it’s quite late. Everyone’s sleeping.” Abigail kept her voice measured. Frank was oftentimes unpredictable, struggling like many of the residents with a touch of dementia.

“Hmph. Can’t sleep. Not tonight. The fuckers will get us while we sleep. Slit our throats from ear to ear.”

“It’s alright Frank. You’re not in the field now. You’re in the hospital, safe and sound, remember?”

Frank eyed the empty space above Abigail’s hair line. She watched his jaw clench with tension as he tried to place himself in the right time, the right country. When his body slackened and his face began to relax Abigail gave Frank a gentle nudge and guided him around in a semi-circle, making full use of the width of the hallway. Frank’s door was adorned with a poster of a fighter jet, a memento of his time in the Air Force. All the doors were decorated with a personal symbol which gave the residents something to recognise so that they didn’t end up walking into the wrong room.

With Frank tucked back into bed, Abigail made her way to the office, picking up her now cold tea from the hall table whence she’d set it.

Frank had a pretty bad reputation at Oaklands. Most of the residents avoided him and the carers complained about him incessantly. He was rude, abrupt, careless and sexist. His family never visited anymore. Rumours spread quickly when he first arrived that he had been an abusive husband and father. His daughter only came to visit him at Christmas, and Abigail could see in her absent stare that she was pretending to be anywhere else the whole time she sat with him.

To Abigail, Frank was like her own father. A war veteran who was mostly absent through her childhood. Her memories of him were clouded by stories from her mother.

“Your father was a good man, Abigail.” Sheryl had said to a sullen teenaged Abigail, a year or more after her dad had died.

“He was the strong, silent type. But oh, he was so happy to have a daughter. I think he was drunk for a week after you were born!”

Sheryl had wiped a tear from beneath Abigail’s ballooning eyes, red rimmed from crying. She ruffled the top of her daughter’s head, the way Abigail imagined her father might have done, had he been there.

She’d been suspended from school that week, caught smoking behind the sports shed with Richie. Abigail was in love with Richie, but he’d blown her off after the smoking incident. His father was the local cop and he held weight in the town. Abigail watched him march into the Principal’s office, his leather boots making silent indents in the linoleum floor. He was an intimidating man and so it came as no surprise that Richie was quickly returned to class unpunished, while Abigail, with no father to defend her, was sent home as punishment.

She hadn’t even bothered to tell her mother the truth about her leaving school. She just never went back. Abigail got a job as an assistant at the local council office and helped pay the bills with what little money she earned. Marty was a town planner commissioned for a new housing estate. They were married less than a year after meeting and Daisy was born a year after that. Marty moved his family every two years chasing work, and chasing women, as it turned out. When she returned to Oaklands years later, it was with no husband, no job, and a seven year old daughter to support. She had nothing to fall back on. The job at the Aged Care Home was only meant to be an interim measure, until Abigail could work out what she really wanted to do.

“Frank’s been wandering again.” Abigail said to Toni, who was now seated at the computer.

“Hmmm, he does that” Toni replied. “Been through the notes yet?”

“Nope, coming to do that now. Anything to worry about?”

“Just the usual. Dora had a fall. She seems okay, just a little stiff. Doc’s coming tomorrow to examine her.”

Abigail and Toni made polite conversation while reading over the notes.

The next hour was quiet and the two women kept mostly to themselves. At eleven-thirty Toni stood up wearily from the computer, stretching her arms above her head. She yawned noisily.

“Are you going to have a sleep?” Abigail asked. “I’m not tired yet so if you want to sleep, you can. I’ll do first response to any calls.”

Toni glanced at the clock and nodded.

“Okay, well, just wake me if you need anything.”

Toni shut down all the internet browsers she’d had open and logged off the computer. Abigail resumed folding the linen she had brought in from the laundry as Toni slipped out of the room without another word. The door to the sleep-out alongside the staff room creaked open and then clicked closed. It was only a small room, previously a storage closet, with only enough space for a single bed and not much else. But it was dark and quiet, all they really needed to fit in a few hours of sleep.

Abigail busied herself with the laundry. While most of the other carers took every opportunity to sit on the internet, Abigail was somewhat of a dinosaur when it came to technology. She still used a flip phone which Daisy was mortified about. Whenever Abigail pulled her phone out of her bag when they were together, her daughter’s face would scrunch up like an overripe passionfruit and she would grumble under her breath.

“Mum, when are you going to upgrade that phone? It’s practically ancient.”

Abigail took little satisfaction in embarrassing her daughter, but she couldn’t much help it. She didn’t have the money for a new iPhone like everyone else. All her money went into Daisy’s schooling, her dance classes, her wardrobe and her own phone and tablet. What little support Abigail got from Marty wasn’t enough to sustain the lifestyle demands of a thirteen year-old.

“Shush you. I know how to use this phone. What’s the point in getting something new that you’ll just have to teach me to use?” Abigail teased, trying to brush off the hurt of her daughter’s embarrassment.

With thoughts of Daisy chasing around her brain, Abigail mindlessly folded all the laundry and begun ironing some of the residents clothes. It was the shrill of a call bell that brought her suddenly out of her reverie.

Even without looking at the switchboard, Abigail knew it was Frank pressing his buzzer, demanding her attention while everyone else slept.

Abigail walked down the hallway and stopped at the fighter jet. The door was slightly ajar and the sounds of the old man shuffling about the room came through the crack. She pushed the door open.

“Frank?”

“What, who’s there?” He spun his whole body around as fast as his old bones could manage.

“It’s me, Abigail. You rang your call bell.”

“What call bell? What the hell are you talking about woman?”

Frank was clearly out of sorts, perhaps even a little confused. Abigail took a step further into the dimly lit room and reached her hand out to steady the scrawny man.

“What the fuck are you doing, you should be in the kitchen, Leanne!”

Frank reeled back, raising his right fist while steadying himself against the wall with his left.

“Leanne? What are you talk-” Abigail had only a second to try and calculate what, or rather who, Frank was talking about before she felt the force of his bony knuckle meet the side of her head. She staggered backwards, a searing pain shooting through the left side of her face. Abigail instinctively put her hand to her head and felt the warmth of blood oozing thickly from a cut at her temple. She glanced at Frank in disbelief, but the man staring back at her was just a shell. His vacant eyes bore into hers with as much confusion as she felt herself.

Abigail darted out of the room and ran to the office, kicking the door closed behind her. She sat in the far corner, clutching at her head. Her pulse thrummed in her ear, hot and loud. She couldn’t move. She just sat, motionless. Each time she closed her eyes she saw a leathery fist clench and thrust toward her. She tried to reconcile what she’d said or done that might have triggered his behaviour. She searched her brain for a shred of training in what to do in this situation, but all she could see was that white fist pumping through the darkness.

Every fibre of her body told her to walk out of the building, get into her car and never come back. Shock kept her fused to the chair, waiting for the answer to come to her. Waiting for the impulse to collect her bag and leave. Like she’d done with school, with her marriage.

She hadn’t heard the door of the sleep-out open and so was caught by surprise when Toni came wandering into the office, bleary eyed from sleep. She took one look at Abigail and rushed over to the other woman.

“Abigail, what happened? You’re bleeding!”

“Frank. He was in a state, just punched me out of nowhere.”

“Holy shit. Are you alright?” Toni cupped Abigail’s face and pointed her chin upwards toward the light.

“I’m going to call Barb, this is unacceptable!”

Toni got up and made a start for the phone, but Abigail reached out and pulled her back.

“Listen, do you want to go home? You must be really shaken up. I can handle the shift myself, or call someone in to replace you.”

Abigail looked at her colleague then, for what felt like the first time in the many years since they’d worked together. She noticed a faint ring of blue that encircled Toni’s hazel eyes. She noticed the deep creases etched into her temples from years of smiling too wide. She saw the wisps of grey hair that the other woman had tried, unsuccessfully to hide behind her ears. Toni was no different to Abigail. She was just another mother, another wife, another human trying to do her best in a world that seemed to want to beat you down at every opportunity.

Abigail opened her mouth, which felt dry and tacky.

“No, no, it’s all right. I’ll stay. It’s too late to call Barb.”

“To hell with it, I’ll wake her up. You’ve been put in danger and I won’t stand for it.”

Toni’s fierceness shocked Abigail. She pushed herself up from the chair and walked to the bathroom, splashing ice cold water onto her burning face. She wiped away the remnants of blood, now drying tacky in her hair line. Her eye was beginning to swell and Abigail patted at it gingerly. She stared at her reflection, long and hard. She didn’t recognise the woman she saw, the woman she had become. Weathered from worrying about her teenage daughter. About money. Years of loneliness oozed from her pores. What had she done with her life? Who had she become?

Abigail patted her face dry and went back to the office. Toni was at the desk filling out an incident report.

“I spoke to Barb, she wants you to complete this form. And, ah, well she wants you to stay here, at work.”

Abigail watched a swarm of crimson creep above Toni’s collar; she kept her eyes trained on the paperwork. Clearly, Toni didn’t agree with Barb’s decision.

“It’s okay Toni, I’m happy to stay.”

Toni looked up then, meeting Abigail’s eyes. As they locked onto one another, something passed between the two women that Abigail had never felt before. A single tear pooled in her good eye as she recognised the feeling. The feeling of loyalty. Of friendship. 

“Come on Toni, we better just go and see if Frank’s alright. He’s probably just as confused as I am.”

As they padded down the hallway side by side, Abigail’s heart thudded violently against her rib cage. Her palms grew damp and too warm as she clasped them behind her back and then, clutched at the hem of her shirt.

“We should grab breakfast together when our shift ends.” Abigail said, distracting herself from the fighter jet looming larger as they inched closer to the door.

“Yeah, I’d like that.” Toni replied.

At the door, Toni knocked. After a few seconds of waiting, Abigail pushed the door open and they both walked, hand in hand, into the silence.

My top 6 motivators for writing

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Recently I tweeted that the television series, Jane the Virgin, was a good motivator for me as a writer. For those of you who’ve not seen the show, Jane, the protagonist, is an aspiring author. Whenever she sits down to write on screen or she gets a ‘big break’ as part of her storyline, I get a jolt of inspiration and pull out my laptop.

It got me thinking about all the ways in which I try to motivate myself to keep writing, especially with my current manuscript. I started it back in 2014. I wrote the first draft super quickly, because once I got started the words just came flushing out like water from a burst pipe.

And then I started the editing/rewriting process…

Back then, I had a lot more free time and I felt like I could take this time to pause and reflect because I had no deadlines and I wanted to make sure I put more care into the next drafts than I did with the first. The first draft became more of an outline as I began to refine and expand upon the story, the characters, the setting.

Three years on and it’s beginning to feel like I’ll never get it to the point I want it. But I’ve committed and I do have half of a quite polished manuscript. I’ve given myself a deadline and committed to no more drafts until this one is finalised and sent out to Beta readers.

My life looks awfully different than it did three years ago. Mainly because I became a mother and my days have become far fuller than ever before. So, how do I motivate myself to write in those precious hours between wrangling a baby, ‘keeping house’ and keeping my sanity (i.e. seeing friends/reading/general down time)?

Here’s my list:

  1. Podcasts. I prefer to listen to podcasts than to music when I go walking and I have a few favourites. Creative people are the best at encouraging creativity, and so whenever I listen to one of these gems, I always feel encouraged to get some writing done.
  2. Social Media. Twitter is my go-to for connecting with other writers. Whether I’m asking a question, just wanting to chat or looking for someone to kick me into gear, I find this the best place to be. I feel like part of a community on Twitter, and people who know how to do Twitter right are the best people to ‘follow’. These are the people that engage with you like you’re an actual human, who are funny and kind and authentic. Posting your word count is always motivating, and lots of the people I follow often post motivational quotes and tidbits about their writing. Instagram is great too, but I feel it’s less about having a community and more about admiring pretty pictures (and prose).
  3. Reading in the genre I wish to write. I like to read all kinds of books; fiction and non-fiction alike. I’m in a book club for the very reason of broadening my scope of authors and genres. But when it comes to encouraging me to write, I have to read something that makes me strive to write in that way. That is commercial women’s fiction or general fiction for me.
  4. Doing a course. I’m enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing, though I’ve decided to defer this year.  I found my first year of study completely thrilling. I learnt so much and my writing really developed. This was in large part due to all the feedback I received from my peers when we had to workshop our writing. Though I love formal learning, I don’t necessarily think it’s the only way – often it’s not even the best way – to hone your craft. There are loads of great short courses and one-day workshops that focus on specific elements of writing. Your local Writer’s Centre will likely have a full years schedule of events and workshops, while the Australian Writing Centre offers lots of online courses at reasonable prices.
  5. Sharing my work. Though I’m not part of a Writers Group, I have made some wonderful writer/reader friends both online and off, who are generally always happy to read my work and give me feedback. Each person brings a different viewpoint and expertise. Not all of them are writers. I appreciate having people read things from an audience perspective as well as from a technical, writerly side.
  6. Procrastinating. Wait, what? How does procrastinating help motivate you, I hear you ask. I find it really hard to write at home if there are distractions, like dirty dishes, mounds of laundry or a filthy floor. If I have to be at home to write, which is most often the case, I need to ensure there’s nothing else I feel like I should be doing. So before I sit down to write, I very often do a sweep of the house; cleaning, tidying, throwing on a load of laundry, just to set myself at ease. Once that’s done, there’s no excuses and I find I am far more productive in the hour or so of writing time I have left.

I’d love to know, what keeps you motivated to write?

Poetry & Prose

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What is poetry, if not the expression of ones feelings in a way that ignites feelings in another?

For the longest time, I shied away from poetry.

As a young child I loved words that rhymed. It was like this neat little trick you could play with words. Suddenly, a boring word like ‘style’ became infinitely more magical when paired with ‘smile’. I wrote lots of little poems as a child and enjoyed homework that included writing of almost any kind. But somewhere along the way I lost my nerve in poetry. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, probably sometime in later high school or even university, when ‘Poetry’ became a subject to study, rather than a fun thing to dabble in.

That was until I discovered a world of poetry on social media.

The beauty of social media is that we get the chance to experience words in their most raw and concise form. Poetry is easy to share. Its succinctness lends itself to the limited characters of Twitter, or the visual format of Instagram. Finding inspiration is easy when you know where to look. I find the likes of R.M. Drake, JM Storm and Lang Leav inspire me to not only experiment with short form prose, but to share what I’ve written as well.

By nature, I still prefer to write and read long form fiction, but now that I’ve let go of the academia of poetry I’ve opened myself up to it once again. Allowing me to experiment with words and sentence structure, sounds and rhythm. Words become playful and fun when we strip them back and let the feeling overshadow the meaning.

Now that I’ve been experimenting with poetry I have a far greater appreciation for it. I was recently gifted ‘The Nightingales are Drunk’ by Hafez and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Do you enjoy poetry and if so, is there any you can recommend me to read?

Why I love Big Magic (and you should too)

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Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame has copped a lot of flak by way of negative reviews of her books. But, as an artist, this is to be expected. Creativity is subjective, and not everyone digs the same thing, right?

One only needs to scroll through the reviews on Goodreads to note that plenty of people didn’t appreciate Gilbert’s memoir about spending a year abroad in Italy, India and Indonesia. Despite that, she is one of the most famous authors of our time. The book was turned into a movie and Gilbert continues to write and mentor other creatives. Every. Day.

Needless to say, when Gilbert’s non-fiction book, Big Magic came out, I was eager to get stuck into it. Especially since it promised to be filled with sage advice about living a creative life. If she could build such an amazing career being a writer, surely then, this book would have all the answers?

Not surprisingly, plenty of reviewers loathe this book, just like Eat Pray Love. But a negative review has never stopped me from picking up a book I have an interest in. So I pre-ordered it and devoured it in a single sitting (I’m not a fast reader, so take that as a sign that this book is easy to read).

I dog-eared pages of advice I really loved and I left this book in my bedside table drawer, knowing I would come back to it time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing ground-breaking to be said in Big Magic. So if you’re expecting the next Don Quixote, well, you may want to look elsewhere. What it is is a common sense approach to living up to your full creative potential. This doesn’t necessarily have to equate to becoming a world-famous author, poet, artist, singer, etc, it just means doing what makes you happy, making time for the creative aspects of your life and not having such high expectations of yourself, your art, or the people around you. Failure is OK and persistence is key. Also, don’t quit your job to pursue the creative life on a whim, because you’re setting yourself up for bankruptcy. Dah.

Though the book is supposedly targeted at anyone seeking more creativity in their life, I do think it is very much pointed at writers, more so than anyone else. There are a few anecdotes regarding poetry and ice skating, etc, but the crux of the book is really only relatable if you’re in that world of words.  

Some of my favourite snippets include:

“The arts are not a profession, in the manner of regular professions. There is no job security in creativity, and there never will be.” p.106

“Writers are told to write what they know, and all I knew was that I didn’t know very much yet, so I went forth in deliberate search of material… I kept two notebooks in my back pockets – one for my customers’ orders, and the other for my customers’ dialogue… I learned that not only does everybody have a story that would stop your heart, but everybody wants to tell you about it.” p.111

“I like that feature in men – their absurd overconfidence, the way they will casually decide, “Well, I’m 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job!” Yes, sometimes the results are disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works… I only wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps. But I’ve watched too many women do the opposite. I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, “I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, just to be on the safe side.”” p.168

“If the only thing an idea wants is to be made manifest, then why would that idea deliberately harm you, when you are the one who might be able to bring it forth? (Nature provides the seed; man provides the garden; each is grateful for the other’s help.) Is it possible then, that creativity is not fucking with us at all, but that we have been fucking with it?” p.217

Dear reader, I’d love to know, have you read Big Magic, and if so, what did you think?

Welcome to my home

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Many months (ahem, years) have gone by since I last blogged. In a former life, I hosted a vegan food blog, The Natural Foodie. I hosted that site for about three years, when I was really into cooking and eating and exploring vegan life. I’m still into all that, but my life has somewhat changed. I started studying towards my Masters of Creative Writing and I had a baby. Things like writing get a little tricky when you welcome an entirely dependent human being into your life.

Besides having a child, I also realised that hosting a food blog was really just a focused way for me to write creatively. It was also what I like to call ‘A Really Good Way to Procrastinate From Writing The Thing I Actually Want To Write’.

Cue, my book.

For near on four years I have been toiling away at this idea for a book in my head. I’ve played the scenes out in my mind when drifting off to sleep. I’ve daydreamed about who the characters are and what their lives are like. I’ve added scenes based on places I’ve traveled, falling in love with the architecture and the people and realising that I just had to find a way to fit them into my fictional world. So, in November of 2014 I finally got down to the business of getting that story out of my head and onto the page. I took part in my first ever NaNoWriMo and was over-the-edge excited to have broken the 50K word count in that one month alone.

By December 2014, I thought I would be tying up the loose ends, wrapping my manuscript up into a neat little bundle and sending it out to all the publishers I could think of in the hopes of getting a traditional publishing deal.

How naive I was.

I did manage to finish the first draft by February 2015, but then I went and decided that I didn’t like it being in third person and decided to rewrite the whole damn thing in first person. In August of 2015 I started my Masters and was afforded my first opportunity to workshop a couple of chapters with my fellow students and course coordinator. Well, that was an eye opener. To say the least.

The feedback was not bad. In fact much of it was quite encouraging. But there’s always room for improvement, and now that I’m looking at my writing in a far more critical light, I’ve both lost a bit of the confidence I had from my first draft, and gained a lot of skills that will be critical to the success of any full length novel I might publish.

So, why am I back blogging if I have a book to write? Well, writing can be a lonely journey, and we writers need a home for our ramblings outside of the confines of our empty offices and laptop screens. This is my writing home.