Memory bright as a star and equally mysterious: Freefall Writing

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.


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.