The Words and Worlds of Life Writing

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

A Being of Things

There is a thing that happens to me first thing in the morning; it is a feeling of time and a hearing of noises. It’s not a doing of things it’s a being of things. As I wake, I am lucky enough to hear birds. I lie still and listen. My eyes closed — my mind free to move from bird to bird. From call to call. From song to song.

My chest hardly rises as I breathe in the morning, it is not a stillness as such, my mind is clear, and my focus direct. I think about what I will be writing today, who will I be writing today.

The birds are loud now, repetitive peeps, melodic pipes, and outrageous shrieks. Spring is here too, and the light comes earlier, and the birds who are most active in the predawn light let me know it is time to wake, long before the sun.

Superb Fairy-Wren (Malaria cyaneus)

One of the best-recognised species and common in most areas where there is undergrowth or tall grass cover. Strongly territorial living in family groups. *

I open my eyes I search for the wrens, one blue, one brown, that for three years have scratched in the leaf litter for morsels outside my bedroom window. They haven’t returned this spring. Not since the neighbourhood cat, tabby, wombat wide and wallaby tall wandered through the yard.

In between bird sounds I write.

Voices in my Hands

As a ghost-writer, I wear many cloaks, many shoes, and many hats. I step into a voice, and that story inhabits me for a week, six months, a year. The life stories I write fill my memory with moments that I have never lived. They are not mine, but they live in my words for a time.

Today I might become the voice of the farmer who has lived his life on four-thousand acres, clearing land and counting his years in sheepdogs, rains, and droughts. Amongst his fantastical stories of lightning strikes, fires, and sheep yards he has a little hind-sighted thought of the water holes, now gone to salt, and the acres cleared of mallee scrub,

‘Did I do too much?’ he asks.

The Rooster and the Blackbird

The rooster usually crows first, long before dawn, his voice travels through the neighbourhood. It continues throughout the morning, but the others don’t seem to hear, none call back. No-one halts the business of the morning while his call intends to lord over us all.

Today I am writing in the voice of a young man who will become an engineer; he will travel through Salazar’s Portugal and drive through Berlin while the wall is under construction. Today though, he is a boy on the sand at Mordialloc Beach struggling to get out of his woollen bathing costume.

‘They were itchy if you left them on too long.’ He tells me in a moment of visceral memory.

Through his voice, I can hear the young boy dreaming. I hear him reflect on his life with pride while I write in his voice about his adult world in which business comes first. Capitalism and helicopters. A long way from Brunswick, 1945.

I record his anecdotes of university days, scholarships, and mentors. All the while, the birds keep me in this place, the blackbird’s song is constant.

My husband visualises this process as a swirling design from a fine nibbed pen, continuing across the page. ‘If you could see the blackbird’s song,’ he says, ‘that’s what it would look like.’

The Common Blackbird: Turdus merula

Introduced to SA during the 1870s. Native to Europe and Asia. Prefers gardens and areas with plenty of thick exotic undergrowth such as blackberries. As with other thrushes has a melodic piping song. When disturbed flies with a louder chatter.*

The Red Wattle Bird (Anthochaera carunculata)

Aggressive when feeding on nectar with other Honeyeaters. It has a loud coughing call with several variations.*

The Red Wattlebird and the Singing Honeyeater

The ‘kakkak kakkak’ of the Red Wattlebird shrieks through the window. It is a fierce, territorial warning. I place my hand on my abdomen as it rises and falls, and wonder about my son. Twenty-one years old and living in country Victoria during COVID-19.

He is fine; he continues to work. He sends me snap-chats of his masked walk to work each day. Border closures mean he is unable to come home. I yearn to see him again. He tells me he is happy and does not mind that he is not at home. He, of course, has the right idea, to fly from the nest and live his best life. I agree with him. Inside I want to shriek fiercely and protect him from all the unknown things.

Singing Honeyeater (Lichenostomus virescens) Enjoys berries and fruit as well as blossom nectar. It perches on top of a bush to call, but this cannot really be described as singing. Two or three eggs are laid in a nest which is an untidy cup in a shrub.*

The peep of the Singing Honeyeater cuts through the constant warbling of magpies. This morning song is of hard work, searching for food and warning others to stay away from the nest.

A Woman’s Story

A few years ago, I wrote the words of a daughter, mother, wife, and sister. I have finished writing her life story, but the message of survival in it, remains with me, she is strong. Her story is of a daughter with family secrets that continue to unfold and unfurl and undo.

While I found joy in the writing, in her memoir, this woman discovered herself, learned that what she thought of as one thing was, in fact, another, and the man she thought should love her and offer security, caused heartache, confusion, and exhaustion.

I try to remind myself that the sounds, the songs, beautiful though they may be, are sometimes about desperation, fear, panic or warning. What we most often think of as one thing, can be another.

Bird Watching

I focus on morning birds because morning has become more for me than a quiet time of ideas. It has become a conscious desire to recognise each call as it appears. But, as my mind darts from one call or song to the next, in a desperate bid to hold on, I lose my thing; the feeling of time and a hearing of noises. The not doing of things.

I have recently finished the first drafts of two more life stories, and I am still revelling in the thrill of posting them to my clients. They now get to reflect on their stories and fill in any missing memories, or additional details; room for recall. The cathartic process, for them, happens here.

I ask them to take time, sit in the evening dusk and reminisce with their partner. Drink tea and talk to their family. Touch the photos, hold the vase, and remember. I then get to fine-tune their stories on the page, rearrange timelines and elaborate on truths.

This morning before dawn in my back yard, slippers on, dressing gown wrapped snugly around me, my phone records the sounds. The ocean roars and the wind rushes about in the trees.

I would like to see one, or any of the ten or fifteen birds that must be there. They quieten as my slippers crunch a twig but in moments, start up again. I hold my camera up to the loudest tree, but between my aging eyes and the predawn light, I cannot make out a single bird.

In the afternoon, I wonder about Peter Gower and the way his book, Fleurieu Birds, fostered a love of my natural surroundings. I never dreamed it possible that photography like his would enrich my day to day life so fundamentally. In the predawn light, I think about the futility of wishing to catch a glimpse or trying desperately to grasp either a bird or its song.

The Loud Tree.

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