I wrote a daily diary during my FAWWA residency, which is sadly at an end. To follow, are snippets of my days.
Thanks so much to FAWWA for allowing me into this special space, and to the critters who put up with my too-hard typing. All photos are from Mattie Furphy House and surrounds.
Day 1: Monday, 30 October. I meet Victor, who is leaving as I arrive. ‘If you go for a walk, don’t take the path by the oval,’ he says. ‘You’ll get joggers, walkers. Everyone goes there. If you take that other path to the top of the hill, you’ll see the ocean.’
But what he doesn’t say is “that other path” is a near-vertical climb! [Okay, this is an exaggeration, but it is steep. Note for tomorrow: wear shoes appropriate for hiking.]
Magpies come to say hello, warily. They drink from the Tom Collins birdbath and croodle at me; I croodle back. Croodling is like warbling but, to my ear, it’s closer to the sound they make. They come closer when I croodle.
The under-house bobtail comes to check out who is typing with lead fingers. I wonder if we’ll be friends. Two weeks will tell.
There’s a papaya tree — no, two; no, five? — outside of Tom Collins House. Will Peter let me take a green papaya to make a salad? Maybe he will if I promise to share. [PS: Peter did, and I shared. Recipe here.]
Day 2: Tuesday, 31 October. Longer walk today. I turn a different path, get lost in backstreets and sand-covered alleyways.
The park with pines and weeping willows looks to be a place to write, until the trucks begin. Back down the hill, children sing and laugh. In the pines the birds are cheeping — actually cheeping! — which is something I can’t remember hearing outside of books telling me that’s what a bird is supposed to say. Girl in cat ears writes and chats to the lady with two tiny dogs. I find a lonely shopping trolley, how far from home it is I do not know: the monolithic blocks loom from hilltops like way-off shopping centres but, with their outlooks, they could be mansions. A bed of pine needles looks to be the perfect writing space. Then the dogs bark at me through green tin and I am off, up my familiar hill.
I sit to write just up from yesterday’s outdoor office. Swoop of some winged thing behind me. The first thing I start with is this, my observations. Mind wanders.
I check my tweets. Manus is critical. I feel for the refugees, my heart is with them as much is it can be away from my family. There’s a tweet with the number for the PMO so I call and ramble to a patient staffer about how all this is so wrong and she says she would be more than happy to pass my comments onto the Prime Minister and that gives my heart some hope. Please, Malcolm. These artificial borders hurt so many.
Then I’m channeling that sadness, ire, hopelessness into my book which seems to be the only thing I can really do with it.
Home again, for now. I guess I found myself in backstreets.
Day 3: Wednesday, 1 November. It hurts. All of it. Lower back is tight; gastrocnemius weighs me down like cannonballs have been fused on in the night. But still I take my walk.
Take my walk. How do you take your walk? Sounds like milk in my coffee, or swallowing a tablet.
Later. The breeze amplifies through the windtunnel of the house. I wrap my blanket round but it’s not enough to warm me. A daddy longlegs spider’s skin drifts when I close the door. Installation art. There’s a dead bee on the sundeck. The tree beyond it drools — its sap, matte black — and I can see where it has eaten at the living bark and flesh. Old blood, old wound.
Day 4: Thursday, 2 November. It’s “bring your daughter into work” day on account of her being poorly.
I take her to a park so I can write and she can play or draw. She talks to herself and to the magpies who eye us curiously close while we eat seaweed. They look hungry but, really, they are fusspots: roasted seaweed is clearly not the in-thing to scavenge these days.
Magpie watching me, constant stare. Head is in a slow drift up: it corrects, begins its upward scale again.
Ravens and wattlebirds are at war over a garden fence. Periodically they scatter up. Ominous to see so many black birds in flight against this powder blue.
We stop to smell the roses and I like the peach-pink one best but she likes the perfume of the tiny red one in the middle of the patch who looks just like our Ingrid.
Day 5: Friday, 3 November. I don’t know if what I have is a flu or just my body reacting — to every-morning yoga and bush walks (it’s not used to either), to my daughter breathing cold germs all over me, or to my radio interview. I’m building nervous energy.
I start the day at RTR FM. I am not built for radio, and I feel fortunate to escape with all my limbs, even if they’re now stuffing my oesophagus. The ferret looking up the thesaurus in my head reaches for the wrong word (close, but wrong) at least once, and I misquote Annabel Smith’s blog [which is excellent, by the way, and linked here]. But I do manage to talk about all of my workshops and give FAWWA a plug. I hope it’s enough to redeem me.
Some days, I should not be allowed to put words out of my mouth.
Day 6: Saturday, 4 November. Too much too soon and I’m talking in a squeak for my Tomato Writing workshop. In spite of that, it goes well, I think…
I’m at 22 Pillars that evening and it’s amazing. The poets, the chorus, the atmosphere. I am overwhelmed at the start — so hot — but the poets surrounded by writhing throngs of us ebb and flow in newlywedded tattoos of O’Reilly’s puppet-stuffing morning swimmers, and I can not draw myself away.
By the time I get home, my voice is gone completely. I guess I haven’t learnt my boundaries.
Day 7: Sunday, 5 November. Rest day. I clean the chicken’s coop, prepare for another week. I cut and paste and polish my words.
Day 8: Monday, 6 November. I’ve set myself up by the oval under a tree. So many dogs. I meet Prince — a long-haired German shepherd? — who sniffs then proceeds to lift his leg at the tree a foot from me. [Note to self: stop sitting propped up against trees to write, in case of dog wee.]
The grass tick-ticks at me in iambic pentam– tetr– iamb– syncopa– It’s ticking in an offbeat.
A single glistening thread spans tree to park bench. It’s quite a length. Is this the start of a web, a trap to garrotte unsuspecting insects in their flightpath, or a tightrope? I’ve seen a spider fly on the breeze; I’d like to see one walk a tightrope.
More than one bee hovers close, almost lands. I think they think I’m a flower, maybe because I’m wearing hot pink today, or perhaps the breeze has told them my name: “hana” translates to flower in Japanese.
Day 9: Tuesday, 7 November. I’m stopped by the front door, keys in hand, by two people driving past, asking, ‘Do you live there?’
‘Just for two weeks,’ I say.
‘Do you have a dog?’
‘No,’ I say. I think this is an odd question, but conversation ensues, about the village of heritage houses Mattie Furphy House is a part of, until another car drives up, prompts them into moving.
‘You’re very lucky,’ the lady of the car calls out.
‘Thank you, I know,’ I say, because I do know this, and they drive away.
Later, I wonder about their dog question, whether they meant I was lucky because they were going to cause me harm, whether any of this means I should expect a sinister visit. Or maybe these wonderings belong in the short story I’ve just started working on.
Day 10: Wednesday, 8 November. I see you, little gecko in the tree so high. I see you, even in the scraggliness of the bark and the branches. I think magpies eat little lizards. I would make a good magpie, I think. I would find shiny lost things in the dirt and beg for biscuits, and I would not eat you.
Day 11: Thursday, 9 November. The ocean is nearer, more turquoise. It reminds me of a tiny, waxen stone I found as a girl. I thought I held a piece of solid sea, and maybe I did. This is my sea today.
Day 12 — last day: Friday, 10 November. By the time I drive from Friday @ Furphy’s and Mattie Furphy House, I’m spent. Over the last twelve days, I befriended outstretched trees and bushland creatures and a certain plastic man; I wrote two pieces of flash fiction, almost a short story, part of an essay, many words of a dystopian manuscript. My words are ripe. But for now, I need hugs from my little people, a glass of red with my husband, and hours and hours of unbroken sleep.