8.1 Something Old

As we ease back into JAR blogging, and while uncertainty and profound change swirls around us in eddies, we have decided to explore the maxim: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

Today, something old.

JODI

There is comfort in the old and I like that (even when I am always wanting to rush forth into the new or novel). I was reminded of that this week when it was finally cool enough to pull out my favourite jumper. But this isn’t an article about how much I love that jumper or how it drags up memories which have not been entirely laid to rest.

My “old” is two fold; both are forms of retreat.

The first is my poetry; a retreat in terms of space for daily moving meditation. My tools of quiet are scissors, glue, fragments of book text, cardboard, photos and a willingness to let go and allow poetry to form up through the text. This is where I can be most free and held at the same time. Where I can be true to myself but also in service to others.

Spark and Essence #19 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Michael Rogers 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

My second retreat is a formal commitment to silence and withdrawal. This has been a decision to delete my social media and messaging apps. I am in digital seclusion and I have not been more at peace in a long time.

Silence has extended to music, podcasts and recorded classes. There has been nothing but bird song and the intense symphony of multiple small children in my corner of suburbia and their emotional state in any given five-minute block.

Digital seclusion is a stillness, solitude, silence and simplicity I know well though it has been more than a year since I have retreated like this. I am not at all surprised to find myself here.

Spark and Essence #13 Jodi Cleghorn 📸 Chu Son 📖 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Both are old, but unlike my jumper, neither are worn or pulled out of shape, no matter how much time I spend in them.

ADAM

Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill for inspiration and sing about the grief.

So sang Bono in “The Fly,” the first single from the album Achtung Baby, an album which, in sound, was a radical departure from The Joshua Tree, the album that made them stratospheric rockstars. Both albums are brilliant in their own way. 

I like the old for the anchor that it can serve in our lives. The old can be a sense of certainty, a foundation, a building block. The old can be the rituals and traditions of family, the liturgy and recitation of beliefs forming the locus for who we are and what we are. The old becomes the central tenets we adhere to.

The old is what we are an apprentice to. We learn from the old, the ancient, the wise who have travelled before us and said, “This is what I have found” in their voices of poetry, music, dance, philosophy, faith. 

When we have learned enough to not be ignorant, but too little to be wise, we draw the anchor, relocate our position and fix ourselves to a new point to see how far we have travelled, or moved away from, in our own individual transformation and development, perhaps seeing those fixed points we used as our focal point in a different way. As another constellation to map our progress.

And in all this we return to the maxims and mantras of the masters, the proverbs and parables of the prophets, and understand them in a new way. It means returning to what was our first love, our awareness of what some would call vocation, or ministry, or calling, the idea that initially sparked our pilgrim’s progress. 

I like tradition for the symbolism and meaning it conveys but I look for ways that the old can be communicated for the new, in order that I may point them back to the old. As a teacher, I teach not to draw attention to myself, but to help students focus on what has come before them, to help them understand how to create their own foundations.

RUS

Our lifetimes provide us with more moments and memories than we know what to do with. Sometimes, we hold on to the older moments that keep us prisoners to our past, where we allow regret or desperation to grip us in our present. They are tempting, though, aren’t they? They lull us into “what-ifs” that make us believe the past is still attainable.

It is not.

What we are afforded from our past, however, are moments of great strength that serve us in different ways now. For me, that’s time spent living in a cabin along the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Instead of letting the “what-ifs” grip me, I embrace the still-present smells of the cool brackish waters mingling with the clays of the ancient cliffs around me, the sounds of a low-flying heron looking for a sunrise snack, the feeling of cold grains of wet sand formed around my feet like customized, natural sandals protecting me from the pin-pricks of fossilized teeth, lost millions of years ago by the sharks that inhabited these waters.

When I first experienced these things 33 years ago, I savored them for the moments in which they were born, and sometimes with the people with whom I so graciously shared them; today, though, I cherish the tranquility and solitude they bring me in the most hectic of hours; they bring peace to a present that is often far from the days living in a hand-built cabin in southern Maryland.

From this that is old, I do not wallow in regret; I bask in the glow of experiences gained to sustain my balance, my peace, on this long journey that carries me decades beyond those first hours spent along the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where I pondered my own existence among the cliffs that held fossils millions and millions of years old.

We are gifted with what is old; we are lifted by what we take from it.

7.2 A Glimpse at “We Are But Ghosts On Film”

In the course of writing Post Marked Pipers’ Reach, Jodi and I wrote a series of unrelated stories for a Form and Genre Challenge. Unbeknownst to me, the titular character, Charlotte McKay, was in fact Ella-Louise. Charlotte McKay was the name Ella-Louise used when working undercover.

The short stories “What I Left to Forget” and “The Photographer’s Concerto” explored the relationship between Charlotte and Jakob, the guitarist for an up-an-coming grunge band, Soul Monkey Momento, who were set to explode in Australia and overseas. I had no idea I was writing stories that were connected to the wider world of Piper’s Reach at the time.

There is a mention of Jakob and the band in the letters between Ella-Louise and Jude, but the focal point for me in creating a new story was when Ella-Louise returned to Melbourne with the hope of catching up with members of Soul Monkey Momento. I had the two short stories, and the connection between Charlotte and Jakob, yet I was interested in what had happened to the rest of the band since the death of Jakob, and Charlotte’s sudden reappearance, particularly as it affected the drummer, Mitch.

Charlotte McKay was a separate entity to Ella-Louise, another incarnation of who she was, and I wanted to explore the impact of her life on another person. Who are we in the gaps and silences of life? Is there redemption in asking for forgiveness? Or condemnation? Can you make amends for a past that was of your making, and not of your own making? Can you be forgiven for what you did? Do you want forgiveness?

I’ve written the novella and am now in the process of rereading, editing and rewriting for submission.

WE ARE BUT GHOSTS ON FILM

CHAPTER 3

Mitch sits behind the kit and plays the song Jakob wrote for Charlotte. She sings it with fragile tenacity and the years peel back. There is the sound of heartbreak in her voice, not the passionate declaration of adoring lust. This was a song wrought out of intense passion and sung with desperate longing. And it was beautiful. It is still beautiful.

Flip the record and the B-side is another single; a cover song or an alternate take. This is the A-side: Jakob died and Charlotte disappeared. The B-side is a gap of fifteen years, three bands, and one heartbreaking event ago. And yet she is here, on stage, singing the same song.

The crowd erupts, witness to a moment they believed they would never see again.

Josh yells over the adoring crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, CHARLOTTE MCKAY!”

Eyes focused downward, she waves to the crowd who respond in ecstasy.

Mitch yellS after her. “Charlotte.”

She turns, hand still grasping the microphone.

“Hang around, will you?”

She nods, caught under the gaze of the spotlights, and smiles but Mitch doubts she will stick around to the end of the set. He watches her drop off the stage, pick up her camera and slip in the shadows between the stage and the barrier. During the rest of the set he keeps an eye out for her but does not see her.

The remainder of the set plays out as planned, held together by the moment of remembered bliss, yet even as the house lights come up and the sound guy starts playing Tears For Fears, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” they begin to forget. Her presence as illusory as shadow; a by-line in a gig review a week later no one will read, as the only proof she ever existed.

She’s there. In the corner of the green room, tucked into a dingy sofa. Camera curled into her lap like a cat.

“Fuck me; Charlotte McKay,” said Mitch. There is a shift in the shadows, wrapping them around her shoulders again as if a spotlight was turned on her, suddenly the focus of attention from Mitch and the other members of the band. Always that shadow covering her heart in layer upon layer.

“Mitch.” From the sofa she stands and slips her arm around his waist, the other over his shoulder.

“Watch it. Bit sweaty.”

The embrace was familiar and awkward, like the distance of time made the pieces of the puzzle not fit correctly; edges mangled or new hollows carved out. There’s an apology in the embrace, and a longing for forgiveness.

Where to from here? Mitch wondered as he felt her embrace loosen and they stepped back from one another, afraid to cross the chasm without the certainty of an anchor point to pull himself up should they fall.

The phantom made real in a pair of dark jeans, boots and black t-shirt. And the camera strap straddling her neck as she cradled the camera like a child in the womb. She looked down, as if she were sizing up this older version of Mitch who was transposed over the younger incarnation.

As she stepped forward again into the gap, Mitch involuntarily moved to step back.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“For what?”

“For just then. Making you step back. Afraid of who I am, what I might be. Sorry for turning up, unannounced. Sorry for disappearing.”

He ran his hand across the stubble on his face and wiped the sweat from the hollow of his neck before wiping it dry on the seat of his jeans. “Apology accepted.”

“Thank you.”

Across the deepest chasm Mitch took a step to embrace Charlotte. A moment for initiating reconciliation and remembrance. She raised her head from his chest. “You never kept a grudge?”

“No need to. It was never your fault.”

Mitch shifted his weight from one foot to the other and let Charlotte slip out of his arms and went to the table on the other side of the room. “Come on. Let’s get you a beer.”

“What are you not telling me?”

“I doubted you existed. You only existed in my memory because the photos you took are proof. Without the photos you’re a ghost; you’re even a ghost behind the camera.”

“You can’t prove I took them. Therefore, I don’t exist.” A slight smirk played at the edge of her lips as if the comment was both self-effacing and self-defeating. “If you don’t remember who took them, I don’t exist.”

“But I do remember. And I won’t forget. So, you do exist. Even if you’re not around.”

“Will you remember me when I’m gone?

“I never forgot. I will always remember.” Mitch twisted the cap off the bottle, tossed it loosely in his hand. “You’re always welcome here. Where are you staying?”

“Somewhere local.”

“Staying long?”

A shake of the head.

“You got time to come back and catch up tonight?”

“I can arrange something.”

“What’s your number and I’ll text you the address.”

“I’m not operating a phone at the moment.”

“Hang on.” Mitch steps out of the room and back to the stage, ferrets in his stick bag for a pen, grabs the scrunched set list from underneath his hi-hat stand and scribbles his address on the back.

Charlotte was where he had left her, the afterimage of a flash popping in his face. He hands her the set list.

“Just like old times,” she says.

5.2 The Next Story – Adam

The Next Story

Part 1

How long has it been since I have written anything from start to finish?

Too long.

Far too long.

“Post Marked Piper’s Reach” was published in July this year. It was written seven years ago.

What has happened in-between? Between 2013 and 2018, the grounds lay fallow. I started a verse novel. Began the drafting and ideas for a novella. Started collaborating with Jodi and Rus on a novel. At the end of 2018 I finished the draft of a novella that will exist in the Piper’s Reach world but be separate from it. It’s now awaiting an edit. And in-between all of this, I have penned scraps of sentences and handwritten pieces for Instagram, and random poems for Twitter and Facebook.

I have not sat down to write for a variety of reasons: moving house, ill health, work commitments. Other personal reasons. I read books. Kept a record of what I had read and challenged myself to improve on it. Kept adding to the compost heap.

But nothing complete or completed.

Looking back on the past few years it appears I’ve been throwing manure on the compost heap in the hope something other than tomatoes will sprout from the pile of grass clippings, vegetable scraps and garden trimmings. At some point you have to turn the soil, keep turning it, shovel it around the base of an idea and see what grows.

Those works in progress mentioned above have sat idle but I return to them occasionally, turning the soil and adding more thought to them.

Part 2

The question is always of, “What next?”

This year was a focus on getting Piper’s Reach into the world and to an audience. Publication was the end of the cycle and a new cycle has to begin.

But where to begin with that new cycle?

In my head, and in my planning, it is the novella, followed by the verse novel and working with Jodi and Rus to finish our collaborative novel, plans for a collaborative novel with Rus, and thinking of another collaboration with Jodi.

Left to my own devices I have to think about the next story. Snippets of sentences and half-formed paragraphs are easy. Bringing them to fruition is difficult. I write better in collaboration as iron sharpens iron. But I had to prove to myself I can do it by myself. The novella was the first step. My verse novel will be the next step after that. For myself, I am unsure. The horizon is a long way off.

Part 3

But I see a way forward. Beyond plans for completing and finishing, there is the desire to write again. I have felt blocked lately in writing but I think I have a way forward: writing my way into it.

I’ll start by writing anything.

With abandon.

With reckless care for sense or understanding.

To write without fear or favour.

To play with language and experiment with words because no one else will see it.

The freedom of not having eyes to cast a glance and question the structure or word choice.

Part 4

But there is something else that sits with me in terms of thinking about the next story: Why do I want to tell this story?

This is what is pushing me lately. I have a couple of unfinished works on my computer and I circle back to them from time to time to ask why do I want to tell this story? Have I worked out what the story is in order to tell it? The same question applies to my novella and verse novel because the question will help frame the narrative and edits in the future.

The “why” will be the driving force to keep me throwing compost onto the heap and tilling the soil.

The next story will always be there.

4.2 Sand People Ride In Single File To Hide Their Numbers

Part One – Literary Allusion

Robert Frost was a tricksy bastard.

The road not taken? The path less travelled by? More like trolling generations of poetry students and Instagram influencers.

There were always two paths.

There was always at least A path.

It just so happened he happened to take the one with more leaves on it.

Others have been there before you.

Someone has always been there ahead of you.

And that’s ok.

I’m definitely ok with that.

You don’t have to hack your way through uncharted territory because there wasn’t a way there before. There’s probably a really good reason why the path doesn’t go that way. The path of least resistance is a good starting point as a writer. Why make it harder for yourself?

I walked a writer’s path starting out with brief sentences and paragraphs. It was where I wanted to learn how to craft something. I spent a year writing flash fiction and getting feedback via a writers’ website. I wrote blog posts, worked collaboratively on projects, before feeling comfortable to write alongside someone and work on a novel. Still feel like the novel is beyond me whereas a novella is more in line with where my writing sits. A novel could be further down the path.

If I lay out my current projects on the table, what path would I take? Can I come back to something or will it be left behind?

Part Two – Personal Anecdote

There is a creek down the street from where I grew up, and where my parents still live, and I spent many hours down by the water either by myself or with my younger brother and our dog.

A dirt track ran beside the creek and we would often follow it until we could go no further. Then we climbed down the rock faces and kept boulder-hopping down the creek.

No phones. No recourse should we get injured. Mum said she wasn’t worried unless the dog came home alone.

I had the freedom to walk the same path over and over and over again: through summer heat keeping an eye out for snakes (this is Australia, after all), winter coldness, and during and after rainfall when the trickle of a waterfall turned into a brown rush.

It was my querencia of solace and familiarity. This was my happy place as a solitary explorer. I could walk the path over and over, knowing where I was at each turn and curve even, as storms and nature put obstacles in the path or branches hung lower. There was always a path visible, even when it was overgrown and almost forgotten about.

I used a setting from one area of the creek in a short story, The Cicada Clock, first published in Tincture Journal.

I took my daughters down there recently, and it was the first time I’d been down there in perhaps fifteen years, maybe even twenty years. We walked the path, at times hidden by long grass or fallen trees, and explored together. For me it was revisiting a space I inhabited so much as a child and teenager, and a chance to introduce my girls to a location meaningful to me. I lead and they followed. Or one of them would go ahead to see what was around the corner or over the rise or behind the tree.

We shared the path.

We may never return there.

Part Three – Comic Juxtaposition

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied:“Sand people always ride single-file, to hide their numbers.”

Part Four – Personal Application

Standing on the shoulders of giants involves learning how to climb their backs; to scramble up the terrain of their legs, back and shoulders, and clamber around their head to get a good seated position. Only then can you see further.

I’m not a leader, an innovator, an intrepid explorer; so many others have been there before me. Instead, I will follow. I’ll be following you on social media, making notes of your wisdom and insights. I’ll ask questions on occasions; watch your mistakes and know I’ll probably make them myself. I’ll be the one tagging along, just a little behind and looking over your shoulder (when I’m not perched on it), to work out how it’s done.

And while we’re travelling along the path, whether it’s a dirt track, a paved footpath, a broad highway, there is always a place to leave graffiti. Footpaths, overpasses, highways, tunnels.

But on my path, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, “Yes.”

Yes, to making the decision to write.

Yes, to writing pieces of flash fiction.

Yes, to writing a blog.

I said “Yes” to opportunities.

Yes, to writing a blog for a writers’ website.

Yes, to contributing to thematic anthologies.

Yes, to the idea of an epistolary novel.

Yes, to another collaborative novel.

Yes, to a writing cooperative.

Yes, to trying something a little different through our writers’ collective.

Not all opportunities are correct. Sometimes it is important to say, “No” or to let a project be relegated to the rubbish.

Every writer’s path is different. The best we can do is leave notes along the way to say, “This is how I, or we, did it. It’s up to you to work out your path.”

Choose how you pave, forge, or ignore the path.

And give a knowing wink to Robert Frost as you cross paths.