1. As part of my preparation for a session at this year’s Melbourne Writers’ festival, I read Alice Pung’s new book, Her Father’s Daughter. I don’t often do non-fiction, let alone memoir. It feels too much like work and not enough like escapism. But perhaps I’m maturing. I know I’m ageing. Either way, Alice’s story was evocative, brutally honest and beautifully written. It will turn up on school reading lists, deservedly.
Looking back, the day Alice and I spoke to young writers at MWF was the same day the High Court over-ruled the so-called ‘refugee swap deal’. All people with views on refugees and multiculturalism should read Alice’s book. And watch Go Back To Where You Came From on SBS. Please.
2. Having conquered a memoir, I grabbed Paul Kelly’s How To Make Gravy, which I’ve stored for over a year, waiting for the right time. Before I began it, I downloaded Scot Gardner’s The Dead I Know. Man, did that blow me away. Scot’s narrator is a kid who gets apprenticed to a funeral director. He’s also a character you really want to see find some peace.
I can tell you that Scot has clearly done his research because some of the detail surprised me. That’s saying something because my Dad is a clergyman who has a fair bit to do with funeral directors. And I’ve spent many hours in the Coroner’s Courts, including a tour behind the scenes. This book could upset some readers but I still recommend it highly. Death shouldn’t be a taboo topic. The Dead I Know is a crackerjack yarn suitable for teens 15 and up.
3. Reading How To Make Gravy is like peering through a microscope at the germs of ideas that led to songs. For instance, Adelaide begins with the lines ‘The wisteria on the back veranda’s still blooming / and all the great aunts are either insane or dead…’ I love that opening. With no disrespect intended to my departed great aunts, it always reminds me of my childhood, visiting them in houses that seemed to be permanently mid-summer yet shaded by a sadness I didn’t understand – despite the Aunts’ mischief and hospitality.
These were women from a generation where many of the men were slaughtered on battlefields or returned too damaged to marry and have a ‘normal’ family life. I have the postcards written to them by their soldier brothers. Perhaps a story will emerge from these cards one day.
For the record, Paul Kelly says ‘insane’ was too harsh on his relatives but ‘eccentric’ didn’t work as well in a song. Never trust a song writer, he says.
4. There’s a lot of time travel involved in hearing the stories behind Paul Kelly’s songs. He jumps back to when he was writing them. I’m transported to when I had them reverberating from a cheap car stereo, commuting to university and various jobs – woodchopping, gardening, cleaning bricks…
Last year I saw the documentary on the making of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. I ended up buying the doco packaged up with the album, out-takes and DVDs of various live performances including the entire Darkness album in 2009. That means I can watch Springsteen and the E Street Band belting out a song in 1978 and then see them tackle the same track three decades later. The Boss’ voice and face may have changed but the passion hasn’t. It’s great stuff.
5. And so, back to the title of this post. I injured myself recently and was immobilised for a couple of days. I’m allowed to get on a bike for the first time in three weeks this weekend and even then I’ll need to exercise caution, dammit. Throw in a birthday and there’s been a whole lot of introspection going on.
I’m more conscious than ever of the stories around me, the battles all people face every day. There’s the healer grieving at facing retirement – the spirit still willing but the flesh unable to give any more. There’s the medico, so worn down by responsibilities and history that he carries the load on his spine and tells his tale to strangers, seeking his personal redemption or cure. There’s the father watching a daughter fight for life. The wife mired in a misery she is seeding for another generation and tends like a vegetable patch. The child being bullied.
And, today, the small group of indigenous Australians achieving a rare victory against the News Limited juggernaut.
So many stories. So little time. I wonder what my story will be when I have 30 years of writing to look back upon.