After becoming blind in her twenties, Juliet started listening to a lot of talking books. This sparked an interest in creative writing. The extract below was written on Deborah’s new course, ‘A Journal Workshop.’
So, we sit on the floor of the lounge, and I listen to The Giver, and Skye passes me a toy and I pass it back and she laughs. I turn off the talking book, and carry her into the kitchen and put her in her high chair. ‘Mum’ she says, and I am pretty happy about that, because it was her first word, and I did make sure of it.
Then I pass her her sipper cup of orange juice, and she tips it over, and I must have not put the lid on properly and Skye says ‘Fuck,’ and my eyebrows go through the top of the ceiling and I think, how did she know to say that, and in the perfect context, and I have a hunch, and I’d rather not, and wonder whether to laugh or cry, and then wonder what to say if she says it in front of my father-in-law Mac. If only Skye’s Dad was still alive he’d know what to do. I pick her up and orange juice is all down her jump suit, and soaking into her nappy, which probably is damp from other things, so I make my way back into the lounge, and am thinking she might be upset, about not getting her juice, but instead she starts laughing.
‘Tickle,’ says Skye, and I think, when did she learn that? I lay her on a changing mat, and I take off all the clothes, and put them in a pile. She kicks her tiny legs and says ‘Mum’ again. Then the phone goes and I carry Skye, naked to the phone. It’s Dad.
‘I need some money,’ he says.
‘But, how can I get it to you?’ I ask.
‘Don’t know,’ says Dad. ‘I need it, though, or I’ll have to eat the grass’.
I think he must be drunk, but I don’t say anything. It’s not even eleven in the morning.
‘Dad,’ I say, ‘you have to tell me how I can get it to you, or I will…’
Dee, dee, dee, says Skye, and Dad says, did she say Dad?
I say,’ God, I don’t know,’ and my voice cracks. My eyes fill. ‘don’t know.’ I hang up. I go back into the lounge, and wonder where the heck I put the clean nappy I was just about to put on Skye. It was right there, and now it isn’t.
Mary is a wife, a mother, a sister, an artist, a belated art-historian and a writer and independent researcher of early religious art.
May 1, 2017
I started university with my children — quite strange really to be in the same class as a son. He didn’t know me of course.
Why Italian – because I loved Italy and thought this might be an opening onto another world. I came home from my first lecture and threw myself on the bed in tears. How could I escape with my dignity intact?
I decided I would try another week.
I held the door open for students. I never sat in the front row or anywhere near the front. I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t answer questions. My assignments were always on time. I deferred to everyone. A real goody-two-shoes.
Tutorials were something else. I was mute with anxiety, frozen by the confidence of these young students yet loving them all for their acceptance. They simply didn’t see age.
Confidence is a sound barrier you simply have to break through. On the other side there is discovery, another life. All that chatter in the tutorial rooms is simply a smokescreen. It took time to realize that confident talk didn’t always equate to competence.
I loved mothering my children, the most profoundly satisfying task I will ever do, yet, as I walked down an autumnal Princes Street kicking the piles of leaves beneath my feet I thought: ‘this is freedom, this is my time, I am starting out’.
Anne grew up in the Waikato but spent most of her working years in Australia. She and her husband returned to New Zealand to retire. She enjoys leisure times spent with her husband and their pets, does some volunteer community work and some study. While she wrote a lot in the context of her work, journalling is an opportunity to write for herself.
Kate Llewellyn’s A Fig at the Gate; The Joys of Friendship, Gardening and the Gaining of Wisdom (2014) attracted me because I lived in Australia for 25 years and enjoyed the work of Australian women writers. She is establishing a new garden and, like her, I had planned two gardens — with professional help — then maintained, or ruined, them depending on how you look at it. I bought a glasshouse. Propagating plants was my hobby. Don’t buy a glasshouse. You take cuttings from other’s gardens, sprout them and end up with surplus plants and the landscaped garden becomes overgrown. I admire Kate’s meticulous gardening entries, the delights and challenges she records. She enjoys gardening programmes; she grapples with conflicting advice about pollinating figs; she embraces companion planting - marigolds need to go in next to tomatoes to control nematodes.
Kate and I have more things in common. She writes “watching myself age is like watching an explosion far out in a calm sea. So peculiar, so irrationally unexpected. I would sometimes be surprised when a person would offer to help me lug groceries or give me a seat on a bus. How do they know that I am old’’ I empathise. When asked “do you have your Gold Card” I wonder how do they know I’ve got one? I live in an apartment complex — no it’s not a retirement village. Of the five apartments on our floor, four of the women have just turned seventy and the fifth one will shortly. We look at each other - do we look seventy? Of course not. Kate says “this is an example of something so outrageous and vain that it makes her smile”. Kate is some years older; her smile comes from looking back. Seventy is new to us. We manage a weak grin. My activities, reactions, emotions in this new age will shape my journal. I’ll test Kate’s hypothesis that “old age liberates one from convention”.
Jenni is a psychotherapist who has spent the last twenty years in private practice and thus knows the power of journaling to tap into the deep unconscious. She says we all share common archetypal experiences and within each of us there is a hero/heroine who can help transform our suffering into a more joyful experience of life. Jenni hopes to impart this valuable insight into stories for children.
To breathe or not to breathe that is the question. I have suffered from asthma all my life and in my forties when it became life threatening I had a life changing experience that enabled me to change my relationship to it. Instead of seeing my condition as an affliction I was able to see it as a loving guide that could teach me to value and care for myself voluntarily. So when an attack occurred I would stop, take stock and slow down.
This involved changing my attitude from one of resentment to a feeling of gratitude. It came in a dream as an image of an ocean pounding against the rocks and I knew instantly that this was significant to me at a core level. My gratitude was the ocean literally washing my asthma away. The attacks eventually stopped. My breathing was no longer like a deflated balloon, lifeless. I was no longer hopelessly dependent on medicines to breathe air. The air we breathe that most people never think twice about.
And so I was mystified when it reared up again last November. I thought I had integrated this profound lesson into my daily existence but here I was again slipping back into the old automatic and reactive responses to stress. I needed to stop again and focus on what I had forgotten. I realised I don’t have to live with this feeling of being misunderstood anymore because at the very core of my being I know I am deeply and unconditionally loved. When breathing struggles arise now I attune my thoughts to this sense of love and find I can breathe without the medicines.
Now retired after almost 30 years of involvement in her own business in the insurance industry Sylvia has returned to her earlier teaching career as a volunteer teacher of English. She is enjoying life at a different pace and spends her time taming her garden, attending art classes, studying art history and getting to know her small grandchildren.
I see skyscrapers standing silent through leafy trees. A fine old palm standing sentinal with its strong brown ringed trunk almost reaching to the highest point of the multistoreyed office block. For how long has he reigned in this place? His pendulous fronds cascading down towards the clump of broad green leafed trees. This is a beautiful oasis planned by the City's forefathers. But the grating sound of a chainsaw interrupts the quiet peace of this pleasant corner, a sign of the city's endless moving and intention to remove and replace. Sadly not often to restore.
Behind me is a Pohutakawa tree, its grey green leaves reaching outwards. Now that the chainsaw has momentarily stopped I can hear the chatter of fantails and here now I see one darting, ducking and exploring this peaceful nook. Cars are cruising through the roads below me, a traffic warden is at work head down intent on spotting an errant vehicle. The chatter of the fantail is replaced by the foreign language of students or could they be tourists? A chain saw, a car revving.
These are the sounds of the city. Although I love to visit I'm thankful that I live in the peaceful quiet of suburbia where I can see and hear the fantails, the tui's song that wakes me in the morning and the kereru that sits on the telegraph cable above my driveway, then beats his wings in retreat when I interrupt him. This is my home.
Dealing with some of life’s harder challenges from the tender age of eleven has moulded Ngawini into a strong, capable, and determined character. Her innate sense of optimism and ability to see humour in almost all tough situations has carried her through.
My husband loves me – well, I’m pretty sure he does . . . now. I suspect it’s a fairly new concept to him and I think he perhaps wonders why I choose to resist his meaningful little hugs, his little overtures of intimacy. Why can he not grasp that years, decades, of neglect and hurt have piled up and up, building a wall I cannot, will not allow him through? I refuse point blank to open myself up to any further hurt from that source ever again, so when he comes to embrace me, I am like an overloaded pin cushion only the sharpened ends of those pins point outward.
A young woman asked recently “why are you still there?” Should I have told her how frightened I was of once again being alone? Or how I’d learned once before that any husband was better than none? And there was the sense of despair that could have led to my suicide?
I had reasons to stay – damned good reasons – just not necessarily for me. Four daughters, my one and his three, who’d each suffered from their parents’ break-ups. All were emotionally damaged. The fifth reason was our child, why should she have to go through what her sisters did?
I stayed and I fought to regain me. I focussed on things that would help me remain sane. I studied extramurally and gained a degree partly to prove I was not the dumb-ass he seemed to assume, and in a field he considered himself almost expert. Now I’m the expert.
I was diagnosed with depression. Wrong. It’s red hot anger! But I’m happy to take the pills, just one a day keeps the fury at bay.
As a calligrapher I am practised in "the art of beautiful writing". But I am not a writer. and that is why I am here, to be introduced to the art of writing.
Thinking on myself in words, on blank paper is not something I am confident to start. But if the thing closest to my heart, is measured in time and energy my family is something I can write about. It’s they who interrupt my thoughts at odd times of every day and night. Generally it’s the children, but more often lately it’s my husband too. I've taken him for granted. But age, health and a small fragility now mean he is more on my radar.
My love, concern and pride in my adult children is no less sharp now than when they were small. It’s taken time for me to appreciate that, although as parents we become more redundant to their lives, they remain deeply embedded in ours.
I'd like to say that my relationship with my children is open and equal. Parent no longer? Friend? I hear women say, “My daughter is my best friend” and I wonder what that really means. My daughters write lovely cards to tell me just this. But that is not the exact reality. As mother of two beautiful single women in their late thirties, fiercely independent, successful and self reliant, there is a certain emotional void between us. And so I fill in the blanks and I worry. They ask my opinion on safe things. Do you like this colour? Should I buy that sofa? Have you the recipe? They close the door if I get too close. In the absence of knowing I fill in the spaces. Are they lonely? Stressed at work? What keeps them happy and optimistic? They have enviable social lives. They live comfortably. They certainly don't feel the weight of expectation to be married and be mothers. They have planned for the single life. My daughter tells me that now she is in a relationship, she is trying to unbundle some of those ideas and expectations, and is finding it difficult. ‘Opening up’ is a rare, and treasured conversation. And occasionally it does happen. The moment has to be right. And I want to gather them close.
Bill and I sit up in bed tonight dissecting titbits from our children's lives, trying to fix their world, knowing we can't. The phone lights up and in come three bitmoji personal cartoons from Catherine: “Hang in there.” “I love you.” “I'm pooped.”
After becoming blind in her twenties, Juliet started listening to a lot of talking books. This sparked an interest in creative writing. The piece below, “Who To Listen To,” was written in Deborah Shepard’s “Life Writing” summer course.
We were living in a car at the time. Dad hadn’t been able to get many gigs, and was drinking too much. Mum was still working in clubs, as a stripper, but wasn’t getting good tips. They were talking of driving to another town, where they wouldn’t be known. It can help in show business. I was twelve. I wanted to stay in the same class, with my lovely Intermediate schoolteacher, but secondary school was looming. Mrs Simmonds encouraged me to apply for St Cuths. She said it was possible to get a full scholarship.
Don has been much encouraged by family and friends to write his story. Allegedly retired some three and a half years ago, he has now made more time to try doing it. So he’s participating in Deborah’s 2017 Life Writing course and this is his first formal effort.
I never cared that I was a teenager. Teenagers hadn’t been ‘invented’ in my day. I was simply who I was, and stuff happened. However, having just turned thirteen and being about a year younger than everyone else in my class, I was the only boy in our group who didn’t have a girlfriend. So a girlfriend was arranged.
Mary has inherited the gift of several folders of letters written by her parents, and sometimes her siblings and herself from 1948 – 1980, to family in the Netherlands. She is working on bringing these family stories alive for her family, and to honour her parents who made the challenging and rewarding journey of living in their new country New Zealand.
My mother made this request regularly, ‘Please write a letter to your grandparents.’ This time it was to acknowledge my grandmother’s seventieth birthday. We were given one transparent sheet of crinkly airmail writing paper and encouraged to write a draft.
Please submit your story via the Contact page and it will receive a gentle edit from Deborah.