above this lucky country
this uncertain world
The write routine. Blessed routine. And the greatest antidote I know to unremitting change.
When once I said that I wanted to work in a post office, my friends were amused. What, they wanted to know, underpinned such lofty ambition. And why?
The why was easy to answer. It is – or at that time was – primarily because the act of stamping appealed to me, the even pressure of the stamp into the ink pad, the quick and efficient transferral of the negative to the positive. I admired, too, the controlled methodology of dealing with a line of fidgeting customers, the dispassionate practice as each job was completed, stapled and filed away before the next started. No untidy ends, no lying in bed worrying at night. As a teller in a bank, I explained, I would have a similar experience. Or in a library in the days when the date stamp was pressed onto a sheet pasted into the front of each book. Or as a sales assistant in a second-hand bookshop. Journo jobs were fast being replaced by computers and I needed to eat.
But you might as well work on some sort of assembly line, some suggested. Another raised an eyebrow: The stamp suggests an aspiration to power perhaps? I struggled to explain – not only to friends – but to prospective employers who puzzled by my experience and credentials turned me down on the grounds I ‘would be bored and wouldn’t be around for long’. Although I think they were wrong in that, it’s taken me a while to understand myself: to realise that in the end it was the familiar — or lack of change — I needed as much as food, that the strange desire I had for repetition was in fact a need for some sort of sameness in my life.
It was the half-dead cottage in North Fremantle that in its way provided a small respite. A record seven years I spent there and although I held down four or five jobs at any one time in those years, we needed each other, that damaged house and me. A safe place. A place where we could share our reparation. A little pirates’ island where I could curl up, lick away the spilled blood of the past and write my books.
It was there that I wrote the first drafts of Tess, published the internationally acclaimed For Women Who Grieve, started what turned out to be a rather successful small business and finally achieved my long-held goal of going to uni. Over that time, my glorious Ridgeback companions and I brought that cottage and many of my dreams alive.
Even twenty years ago, North Fremantle was a community. People smiled and actually engaged. Neighbours put my big dogs back inside the gate if they happened out. We had street parties. Opposite was a deli with two guys who made some great paté served always with a ready smile. It was there I started the annual parties that over the next couple of decades raised a goodly sum in terms of donations to animal shelters and which eventually were responsible for initiating a new charity to help both pets and people.
I’m back there now – in North Freo – ten minutes’ walk from the nineteenth-century cottage I once owned. Sometimes I stand outside and stare. I spent several years renovating that old place (also owned by Australian author and president of Fellowship of Writers WA John K. Ewers) — and again it’s looking unloved. Emotions roil. We all know ‘you can’t go back’. We change, family and friends change, things change. Change becomes its own norm.
I have to admit that coming back to where I once lived has been jarring: the trucks and increased traffic, the development that has taken place, many of my friends long gone, the cottage fallen back into disrepair. For a little while, both the good and the bad of the suburb was a shock.
But somewhere in this changed norm is where I belong. Gradually it’s starting to feel very right. The write routine has returned and perhaps it’s only now I realise how much I depend on it. Each morning from 8.30 to 12.30 I work at my desk while Richard goes to the workshop he shares to craft his projects. In the evenings we walk along the river shore from here to the cottage and back, past families picnicking, people fishing, the anchorages of boats, pods of dolphins,the seven black swans, the herons and ducks. Weekends we do family, friends, arts and films.
For the moment, the image through the edgy kaleidoscope is holding firm.