Sometimes You Need Right Timing

“Sometimes my successes come quickly and at other times they are terribly slow to arrive. It is not my place to determine the speed at which they arrive or if they arrive at all. My place is to keep forging ahead no matter what.” 
Craig D. Lounsbrough

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I’ve been working on my memoir for a while now. I started it after many of you asked me to keep telling the story of my time in the Kimberley and of my Aboriginal Aunties.

I’m up to my eighth draft now, and I’m fairly sure this will be my final one. This week while I’m mostly in bed recovering from the flu I am making these last few changes. I’d been hoping to be working on it at a writers retreat this week, but I didn’t make the final cut. I would have been too sick to go anyway. Funny, that.

I’ve tried to get this thing out into the world a few times now, and it has never flown. Each time, after the rejection, I have let it sit for a while and then have reworked it. Each time it has changed quite dramatically.

I’d decided that no matter what happened with this latest opportunity that I would complete the draft and then send it on. When I began this latest edit a few days ago I was sure I knew what my story was about, what the themes were and what needed to be changed. And then I had a discussion with my sister. As we talked about family and history I suddenly understood that this draft was missing a major message – something one of those wise Aboriginal women had shared with me which had changed everything I thought about myself. I saw that if it could change everything for me it would do the same for many of you. Some truths are universal like that.

If this draft had not been delayed I would never have reached that critical realisation.

So I’m trusting in right timing. I’m trusting that every rejection and hold-up was needed to shape the story it will become. I’m trusting that very soon it will be time for this story to be born into the world.

Has that ever happened to you? That the timing was all wrong until suddenly it was right. Looking back you knew that every disappointment was okay because now you were exactly where you needed to be.

I’m so looking forward to sharing my story with you. Wish me luck as I labour through these last changes!

Much love to you, Nicole  xx

A Life Examined – On Memoir Writing

Image by Anna from flickr via Wikipedia

Image by Anna from flickr via Wikipedia

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
~ Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

“From the ages of 8-18, me and my family moved around a lot. Mostly we would just stretch, but occasionally one of us would actually get up to go to the fridge.”
~ Jarod Kintz

 

This past weekend, unexpectedly, I was holed up in bed recovering from a nasty infection. I’d planned a million things for my weekend, but ended up doing nothing much except thinking and reading.

I’m revising my memoir right now. It’s my One Big Thing for 2016 – to have it completed and submitted to an agent or publishing house.

I remember when I began this wretched tome. How hard can it be, I said to myself. Writing about yourself has to be easier than writing fiction. You already have the story line and all you need to do is put words on the page.

I thought I could knock it over in three months.

Be warned, my friends. That is delusional thinking. This is my third year of effort, on the back of a lifetime of diaries and scribblings and, more recently, blog posts. I have come to discover that memoir means agony. It means the constant overturning of stones under which you’d preferred not to look. It means stripping your own skin – at turns with a blunt butter knife or a cheese grater. It means scrubbing back the tidy stories we tell ourselves in order to come to a deeper truth.

This is my fifth draft, and finally I feel that I am getting somewhere.  I believe I am writing now with a voice closer to my own (rather than a story voice – in the way that some people have a phone voice), and distilling experiences into clean and beautiful elixirs or poisons, depending on the circumstances.

Sounds awful doesn’t it?

And yet…

Through the process of writing this memoir I have come to see my life more clearly and to know myself more deeply. I have crashed through limited thinking and found grace and compassion for myself and others. I have excised meanness and victim-thinking and blame from my pages and from my mind. I’ve healed old hurts. I’ve found me. I’ve learned to love me, flaws and all. I’ve learned to love others in ways I’d given up on as impossible.

I hope, one day soon, to be able to share my story with you. More importantly, I hope to encourage any of you seeking to use part of your own life for writing and self-examination. Memoir is soul work. Our own story, examined, is a great teacher. Through sharing our stories we connect, one to another.

Image from pinterest

Image from pinterest

 

What’s Really Going On, Nicole?

NicoleFluffyJacket

“Once you become self-conscious, there is no end to it; once you start to doubt, there is no room for anything else.”
~ Mignon McLaughlin

 

I’ve had a cranky few days.

I could explain it away as lack of sleep – too much noisy koala sex outside my bedroom window keeping me awake all night – but that would not be it. A contributing factor? Sure. But still, I know my own mind.

Which is why I have a handy question for such instances.

‘What’s really going on, Nicole?’

That’s what I ask myself. Because I know that I know…

So, yesterday, I asked myself, ‘What’s really going on, Nicole?’

‘Oh, just shut up!’ I told myself in my best cranky voice. ‘Leave me alone. I’m just tired. I’m just busy. That’s all.’

The word ‘just’ is a huge red flag for me. It’s my cop-out word. It’s my loaded word. It’s nothing… It’s just…

It’s just that I’m obviously avoiding some big fat thing that I don’t want to talk about.

Hmmmm.

Does that sound familiar to you?

Are you sniffing, and flicking your hair, and shaking your head, and turning away, and saying ‘Fine, I’m just fine…’ at something too?

It’s no good living with a stompy five-year-old in my head having a temper tantrum. That’s not how I want my year to be. 2016, among other things, is about bringing what is hidden into the light. It’s about owning our shadow, and the unclaimed and rejected parts of ourselves, our families, our societies.

I decided to make a pot of tea and do some journalling using a technique called Left Hand Right Hand Dialogue for connecting to that cranky inner child.

 

Let me show you what followed:

Big Nicole: ‘Hi, Little Nicole’ I asked with my dominant hand. ‘What’s really going on?’

Little Nicole: ‘Your planner is dumb!’ I responded with my non-dominant hand, in words so cranky they made stab holes in the page.

Big Nicole: Surprised, (I love my Planner and have been using this method for years) I asked ‘Why do you feel that way?’

Little Nicole: ‘I don’t want to do it. I don’t like it. It’s stupid.’

Big Nicole: ‘Why don’t you like it?’

Little Nicole: ‘I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to have to do that thing.’

I immediately experienced a sinking feeling in my stomach. My stupid Planner. Yep. It’s four days into January and I still haven’t chosen or brainstormed my One Big Thing.

Except.

Actually.

I have.

Last year when I was working with Bek, my graphic designer, she asked for an example of a mind-map that we could use as an illustration in my Planner. I happily obliged, telling myself, ‘I’ll just choose this thing, because it’s a good example, and it’s not really my One Big Thing. ‘Next year I’ll choose something different. Something business-y. Or health. Or… something.’

Here’s that thing I keep avoiding.

mind map

What’s really going on, Nicole?

Shut up, alright. I just don’t want to do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

People will know I’m weird. I won’t be able to take it back once it’s been said. People will judge me. I’ll be laughed at. Rejected.

It won’t be good enough.

I won’t be good enough.

I don’t want to do it.

Except that I really do. It’s the thing I care about so much. Every time I think about the manuscript, finished and needing editing and sitting in my bottom drawer. Every time I think about it, or avoid thinking about it, or do it, or actively avoid doing it, Black Cockatoos fly over my farm, squawking loudly. My Aunties, encouraging me. Reminding me. I am this thing. I need to be this thing.

That’s what my Aunties told me about Black Cockatoos, all those years ago as I sat in the dirt in a circle of wise Aboriginal Women.

“Dis fella keep you company too. Remind you of your black sisters, up here in dis country. Even when you leave and go far, far from here, dese black fella birds and their yella-tailed cousins will find you. Sing to you and say ‘Remember, Remember,’ No way we let you forget. Dat story in you now. You belong part of our family now.”

“One day you live somewhere, you call dat country home. Smell like dis place. Earth. Sea. But make you happy again. We send all dem black fella birds remind you your promise. Remind you your story. Then you know it’s time. Time to be dat story. Live dat story in your heart. Live your true Dreaming.”

 

Already, people who are working with my Planner have been sending me encouraging messages about my memoir. Because I used that stupid example, and it’s there on the page for everyone to see.

Have I started it yet? they ask. Can’t wait to read it!

Do you need an accountability buddy?

??????????????????????????

Bugger.

Today I will sit with my Planner and map out how to properly make my memoir my One Big Thing.

I’m not resisting now. I’ve had my little moment. It’s time to own this thing in me. To own my story and put it out into the world. And then move on to something else.

I am what I am. My ‘Otherness’ is what shapes me. It will all be okay.

I highly recommend asking yourself the question.

What’s really going on?

Examining stuckness, resistance and repressed emotion is always a good thing. Bring that which is hidden out into the Light.

book

What Else Can You See?

Image courtesy of Chris Dryden

Image courtesy of Chris Dryden – who is the awesome star of this shot, and also, my friend!

“To acquire knowledge, one must study;
but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”
~ Marilyn Vos Savant

 

A wise and talented memoirist and creative writing teacher, Beth Kephart, has her students do an exercise where they go out into the world and take ten photographs.

The students know they are going to come back into the classroom and write about those photos. I bet they are already thinking about the clever things they will say as they snap off their shots.

But then she has them do something unexpected. She asks them to disregard the main object in focus, and instead look into the background. What’s there, she asks. What are you missing? What are you not seeing? How does that inform your subject? How does that influence your story?

In editing my own memoir, I took Beth’s advice. As I read through my finished draft I saw how Lyme disease was threaded strongly though the background, even though my focus is on my psychic awakening. I knew I needed to bring a little more attention and detail to this background thread. I also saw my insecurities, twinkling there like stars. The same insecurities I deal with twenty-five years after the fact. Hmmmm….

We can learn much from those background details. It can completely change our story.

I love my friend Chris Dryden’s photo of him jumping over a car on his skateboard, back in the day. It is such a strong image. But when you look into the background two things stand out. Chris is doing something amazing, and the guy in the blue shirt has totally missed it. The Charleston x-ray clinic stands watch too. The perfect destination for any skatie who doesn’t quite make that tricky jump. I laughed and laughed when I finally noticed that.

What’s going on for you right now? What details in the background of your life deserve some attention? How might they change your unfolding story? What things do you want to bring from fuzzy into focused?

It’s a useful exercise for life, as much as for writing.

Much love, Nicole xx

PS – If you are writing memoir I highly recommend Beth Kephart’s book Handling the Truth – on the writing of memoir

Looking Back at Me

Looking Back Through Time by Lady Victoire Deviantart.com

Looking Back Through Time by Lady Victoire Deviantart.com

“We look back on our life as a thing of broken pieces, because our mistakes and failures are always the first to strike us, and outweigh in our imagination what we have accomplished and attained.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections

 

It’s odd, this process of writing about yourself. Seldom do we truly take the time to look back on our lives without being caught in the emotion of the moment, or the memories.

I need to be objective now, to get my facts right as I finish the job of editing this memoir. I’m sifting through old diaries, notebooks, photographs and scraps of paper.

I held some photos in my lap today. I can’t share them with you. To do so would be to trespass the privacy of others, long gone from my life.

I have few photographs of myself. I’d always thought myself so ugly. I’ve been entirely self-conscious, and as this strange unnamed illness (that turned out to be Lyme) progressed through my late teens and early twenties I hid more and more from the lens.

But here they are, these frozen moments in time. What strikes me is that the me I see is so different to the way I’d remembered myself. There was grace there. Elegance even. My own fresh young beauty. And so much hope, still. So much hope in those eyes of mine. So much life and love and emotion.

It made me fall in love with myself. It broke me open with tenderness.

How I wish all of us could reach back through time and whisper in our own ears that we are beautiful, and precious, so that we might live more fully and be more emboldened in our choices.

Too late for the past, but not for today. As I lay down to sleep tonight I will whisper that truth. I am beautiful. I am precious. My dreams are important. It’s never too late…

Poking Bruises

Image from ifunny.co

Image from ifunny.co

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m still editing this memoir.

Because of that, I did something really dumb.

I couldn’t remember a detail about someone’s appearance. An old friend from the past. Turtle. What colour were his eyes? I couldn’t tell in any of the old photographs I have.

So I googled him.

There he was, standing beside his wife and child. Beside him, unexpectedly, the brother and wife of my ex-husband.

I clicked on the image, which led me straight to facebook.

And there, there was the life I walked away from. All of my ex-husband’s family. Their marriages. Their children.

I’d forgotten how much I loved them all. How dear they were to me.

Their children are young adults now, and I’d only known them as babies. Such a fine, big family. Still doing all the things that I once did with them.

Weirdly, some of those grown children look so much like me at that age that I could claim them as my own.

I didn’t know that this stupid simple act of googling one image would lead to this. My heart broken open. My stupid eyes overflowing with tears. My body one big bruise, and each image poking it harder and harder.

I’m not sorry that I am no longer married to my first husband. I love the life I have. I love my husband Ben fiercely. I’d never change places.

But seeing these images brought to my awareness, so strongly, all that I have lost after thirty years of lyme disease.

This morning I am hollow. I can barely talk. That’s okay. The Byron Bay Writers Festival starts today. So I shall go sit in big white tents and listen to authors speak about their books and their writing processes, and their beautiful ideas. And perhaps I’ll find a kindred moment, with someone else who poked a bruise as hard as me.