Memory bright as a star and equally mysterious: Freefall Writing

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I tried to open the blind in our bedroom this morning and the toggle snapped off. Just like that, after only thirty-five years, who’d have thought the thread holding the toggle in place would eventually wear out and snap.

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This blind pulling ritual is one I have come to hate. I usually leave it to my husband who’s mastered the art. I can’t quite work out why it is with this particular blind I can never get it right.

Either I pull down too hard and the whole things comes out of it’s moorings and loses touch with the mechanism up top that allows it to spring back or I pull too hard and the whole thing snaps back, furls up too far and flips over itself at the top.

Then you need a chair or ladder in order to reach up high enough to get back to the toggle- that has now come off – and to unwind the whole thing manually so that it can continue to operate as these blinds do.

It has long been a mystery to me as many things are.

Last week my husband and I spent a week away in Yarck, in North-Eastern Victoria on the way to Mansfield and near to Alexandra on a writing retreat of sorts. We joined a group of ten others, including our mentor and teacher, Barbara Turner Vesselago, to enjoy the experience of writing Freefall.

This is my preferred style of writing, to write without looking back over what I have written; to write in an effort to bring forth all the sensuous details, the sight, the taste, the touch and smell, including dialogue; to write what comes up for me and makes me sweat; to go fear ward; and to avoid writing about material that is less than ten years old when writing autobiographically; unless something screams at me, you must go into this now.

We stayed in cabin number one at the Mittagong Homestead in Fawcett, close by Yarck. Two small bedrooms, a kitchen and living area with separate and large bathroom and spa.

We had only one table on which to write, so I dragged it out of the kitchen area and into bedroom number two, while my husband, who had hoped to write outside in the morning sunshine, found there were no outlets for his computer there. So he dragged the outside table from the veranda and into the living area, thus creating two separate writing spaces for the two of us.

‘A room of our own’, a writing space of our own, a prerequisite for any such event.

And there was structure. We wrote every morning from whenever we woke up and felt like making a start. We wrote till midday or thereabouts, as we then needed to drive to the main house Andana, ten minutes away, where the other participants stayed, all except one who holed up in the nearby Yarck bed and breakfast, attached to the Giddy Goat cafe.

Every day at 12.45 pm we brought our writing, printed, double spaced, numbered and dated with our names on each page, to Barbara and she took our offerings away to read.

We were free them to walk or shop or drive around the district for a few hours until 4.30 pm at which stage we re-joined the group and Barbara who had read as much as three thousand words per person and had ordered our writing into some seemingly mysterious, but meaningful order.  Then she read to the group from our writing and we all discussed each piece in turn till 7 pm when we shared dinner together.

We took responsibility for the preparation and presentation of evening meals in pairs.  Wonderful food.

Barbara is one of the best readers I have ever known, both in her ability to take in work through her own silent reading and as a performer who reads other people’s writing out loud. She brings words to life.

And so we sat in a circle in the Andana house on large comfortable chairs and couches listening to the lull of Barbara’s voice as she read excerpts from our writing. She did not identify the writer of the piece but over the course of a week it became easier to put writing and writer together.  But that was not the point of the exercise, though some of us could not help but wonder.

Sure it was easy for me to recognise my own stuff and my husband’s and to hope that our writing would be read, as everyone hopes their writing will be read.

It is as if in reading your writing out loud, Barbara affirms some sense that this piece, however long or short and whatever its shortfalls, has merit.

It’s amazing how tortured the process can feel, at least for me in those first few days when I pitched myself up against myself, determined to write into a more fictional state of mind, the way one or two of the writers at the retreat spoke, of going into a trance, and of letting the writing flow.

Not for me. Never for me. No trance like states just the hard slog of trying to follow the contours of my thoughts, lulled back into memory and then using my imagination to fill in gaps where my memory failed, which it does all the time.

Memory is like that. It’s there for a moment, bright as a star and then becomes indistinct and so I draw on other memories, the colours, the smells, the images, to bring together something meaningful. To tell a story which might not be the absolute and actual truth of what happened but carries the emotional essence of it.

Out of this mystery come stories, some of which I’ll share.

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4 Comments on Memory bright as a star and equally mysterious: Freefall Writing

  1. Jim Murdoch
    October 24, 2015 at 8:38 pm (2 years ago)

    When Carrie started looking for the flat in which we now live—I was too busy with work and left the whole thing up to her—I placed two conditions on her: 1) no garden, 2) enough room so we could each have our own office. In our previous three flats we’d had to share a space and although by the third we’d got good at arranging the place so we could each have a work area that suited us we both pined after our own rooms. And we got them. We took the two largest rooms and made them offices and slept in the smallest bedroom which had just about enough space for a double bed. We’d started off married life in a double bed and so when we moved into an unfurnished flat for the first time we bought a double rather than a king-sized bed. Our work areas reflect our personalities. Mine is orderly although a little less these days than it used to be and Carrie’s is a bomb site. When I was a teenager and co-opted the front room as my study every chair in the place was covered with stuff so I’ve not always been this tidy but I put that down to lack of storage space in the past. Now I have shelves, drawers and cupboards but after twelve years without throwing out much at all it is a little packed. But it’s not as important as it once was since both Carrie and I, ever since I stopped working, have set up shop in the living room and are perfectly happy pottering away side by side. I still like that I have my office and it’s not like I never use it but I don’t need it as much. Not as much but not not at all. Some people go for a sit in the back garden. I take a break in my office.

    I have blinds in my office but I never open them. One cold winter we blocked off the window with a padded exercise mat of all things—a perfect fit too—and I never took it out. The view is nothing to write home about, just a wall of windows but, nosy parker that I am, I did find them distracting although my seat actually faces the wall.

    I don’t think I’d like a writing retreat. For a few reasons. I don’t like being asked to perform on demand. Certainly for the last ten months I’ve written every day for several hours but those hours have varied radically and often been in the early hours of the morning. Since Carrie came back from the States I’ve stabilised a little and have been working more during so-called normal working hours. Which is fine. As long as the work is getting done I really don’t care. The other thing I don’t think I’d like is being around other writers. I have no problem with other writers but it’s in my nature to think I’m doing things wrong—I’m easily put off—and so I find it best to get on with it on my own and not think about the ways others write. I’d hate to share a first draft. Hate it. I look at the book I’m working on right now and the editing has FAR exceeded the actual writing. And I’m so damn slow at it. Read, revise; read, revise; read, revise…

    And on the subject of truth I discovered this wonderful quote from an old ‘X-Files’ comic: “…truth is a whore. She’ll belong to any man for an hour if the price is right. When the time’s done, you’re back where you started—alone.”

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      October 25, 2015 at 8:30 am (2 years ago)

      Gosh, Jim, you’d have found the freewill workshop tough, but strangely I reckon you too might become absorbed in the momentum and rather than finding other people’s writing a hindrance, you like the rest of us might find yourself learning from others. It’s couched in such a way, you produce what you can and there’s no pressure from outside only the pressure you put on yourself. If you elect to write nothing, I suspect that’d be okay, too, but you’d probably find yourself keen to write. It’s a different process and one that helps to get rid of the internal editor for a time. It’s not about the polished finished work, it’s more about the process. You’re lucky to have all that time to write now so I’m jealous of your arrangements as they are, though I also thrive on a lot of external input in the day to day hubbub of life. Thanks, Jim.

      Reply
  2. Kass
    October 25, 2015 at 4:32 am (2 years ago)

    I love the stimulation of writing workshops and beginning with the Free Flow Write…or as you call it, The Freefall. I like the idea of going ‘fear ward’ too.

    I have the same struggle with my blinds and climb up on a table regularly to reach and rewind the spring mechanism.

    Reply
    • Elisabeth
      October 25, 2015 at 8:32 am (2 years ago)

      I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who suffers the indignity of the dreaded blind, Kass. I had thought they were a thing from the past and most people these days have better systems, but it seems not. Thanks.

      Reply

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