SOMETHING FOR NOTHING AKA THE DAYS OF LIBERATION
When my father died in May, 2016, an enormous chasm opened up in my life. I’d been his Power of Attorney, daughter, friend, co-conspirator, travel companion and problem solver as Alzheimer’s stole his life and mine had changed forever. The following week I signed up for a BA in Creative Writing and in week one in my first unit, my task was to write 100 words on ‘Who Are You?’ for the discussion board. I didn’t really know the answer, so I wrote about how I’d just lost my father and to fill the hole in my life, began studying to look after myself: to step away from being the go-to girl for everyone else – the survivor who realised she’d lost herself along the way. I later described this as “the big re-write of my life.”
For a second unit, Writing the Short Story, I wrote about losing Dad for a major assignment. I used first person POV – out of the ordinary for me – in a contemporary, chronological style, with occasional flashbacks and changes from present to past tense to add meaning and context. I used informal sentence structure in places – short, and choppy; angry tones evoked by words like garbage, shout, slap, knots and pain. I found this liberating and emotive and this story did, in a way, form itself. I didn’t try to apply a creative formula, or plot structure, yet black garbage bags filled with Dad’s clothes became a theme – an emblem of my grief.
My words changed organically: “dad’s/his clothes” became “the clothes” as I felt more detached, and then, more hopeful toward the ending. Soft imagery of grand things: a mountain, the sun, stars, and clouds; soothing gardens, water, flowers, love, pink and white; liberation in scattering, and freedom – painted a sense of promise and resolution.
My continued learning gives me pause to think about finding meaning with colours, language, style and structure. I enjoyed expressing this in text format: using Nine ohhh for 90 (his age), and words like SLAP in capitals.
Economy of words also adds impact, and short form writing has become a journey into myself when seeking just one or two words to convey what would normally require a sentence, a paragraph, or more.
I wrote the bones of the story in a café – a public place where I thought I’d feel strong while writing these private words of affront and devastation. I wanted to feel distant from my feelings, like a reader might feel. I also used a different writing tool while away from my desk: a beautiful old Sheaffer fountain pen, an award Dad had received on his retirement – 14k gold nib and all. This symbol was not lost on me – I wrote that he was as good as gold, and the pouring of black ink onto the page gave me a sense of writing through my grief, of bleeding onto the pages.
In July, 2017, I rewrote this story into a short 500 word entry for the annual Hunter Writers Centre Grieve Competition. I was chosen as a finalist, and have a complimentary copy of the published anthology sitting before me, in pride of place on my desk as I type. It is a book to be consumed in small doses, yet much time is needed to hear the voices of the living and those who are no longer here, but are enlivened on the pages inside.
This quote by Allende, (2013, p. 4) sings to me:
“Every story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumour, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.”
I’ve written from that same place: to deal with that tumour.
Allende, I. 2013, ‘Why I write’, in M Maran (ed.), Why We Write: 20 acclaimed authors on how and why they do what they do, Penguin Group, New York, p. 4