Posted in Learning, Life

145

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I pack the car, pick Tim up from the train station and we head up to my sister’s for the weekend. Along the way a bird, pecking at something on the road, continues to peck as if oblivious to its almost certain death. I remain poised as we drive ever closer, knowing with calm assurance that it will fly out of the way.

We arrive in time for morning tea. This is a regular ritual: every Saturday morning Debbie and her husband get together with a group of friends for a cuppa and a chat at a local cafe.

Tim and I are well known to this group of my sister’s friends. We have spent a number of Saturday mornings drinking tea and chatting, as if we too were their friends.

I have done this my whole life: latched on to my sister’s friends rather than making my own. I find it easier that way – Deb does all the work of making and keeping friends and every now and then I pop along and have conversations with them as if they are my friends as well.

Many years ago, when we were in primary school Stacey, one of Debbie’s friends, invited her on an outing to the beach. Somehow I wrangled an invitation too. Even then, I didn’t have friends of my own, preferring to hang out with my sister and her friends. [I don’t think Deb was as in favour of this arrangement as I was.]

As Stacey’s Dad drove us all to the beach, we sat in the back chatting, and laughing at nothing in particular as eight and nine year olds do. I nearly jumped out of my skin though when Stacey suddenly screamed, Dad, slow down. Please, Dad, don’t hit it!

Was there a person on the road, I wondered? A baby perhaps? Maybe a kid had fallen off his bike and was stumbling bleeding down the centre of the road. It must have been something momentous for Stacey to react like that, I thought.

It was a bird.

But Stacey’s Dad slowed down, the bird flew away unscathed, and we continued calmly to the beach.

To say that I was impressed with this interaction between father and daughter would be a mammoth understatement. Stacey had been able to influence her father’s behaviour in, if not exactly an hysterical way, a decidedly dramatic fashion! Stacey’s father, the man who had built the house we lived in, a big burly man who bossed others around for a living, took notice of what his nine-year-old daughter had said.

I sat with this racing and rolling around in my mind for the rest of the drive to the beach. Once we arrived it flew straight out of my mind of course because there were sandcastles to build and shells to collect to make a number eight with (eight was my favourite number that year).

But the episode lingered in my mind, swirling beneath the delight of being at the beach with people who weren’t my family.

The following weekend, I was again on my way to the beach, this time with my own family. A bird was on the road up ahead. I hesitated, then decided to go for it.

Dad, I screamed, slow down. Please don’t hit it!

Dad didn’t slow down.

It’ll move, he said, in that quiet, dry way he has. And it did.

I learnt a lesson that day. I still ponder about what that lesson was even after all these years of working it over in my mind. I think I learnt a number of lessons actually: lessons about emotional responses, pragmatic thinking, the capacity to influence behaviour (or not), and other things I still can’t articulate.

But it meant that when I saw the bird on the road yesterday morning I just knew that there was no need for histrionics.

We drew ever closer, and I heard my Dad again: it’ll move, and at the very last moment the bird flew lazily away.

Thanks Dad … I think.

Posted in Learning, Life

144

This is Debbie, my big sister. She doesn’t look much like an axe murderer (mostly because she isn’t) but she did come close a number of years ago.

She looks innocent enough now!
She looks innocent enough now!

When I say ‘a number of years’ I’m talking about the late 1960s, so really, quite a long time ago now, when neither of us had yet reached the age of ten.

Our parents had bought a block of land on which to build a house. Dad decided that it would be quite fun to clear the block himself and so after work (for him, school for us) and on the weekends we’d head up to the block and he’d dig up trees and rocks and such like.

As Dad wielded an axe, Debbie, in a moment of father-emulation, took up the tomahawk.

Sharon, said she, hold that rock while I chop it. She knew how this worked. She’d been watching Dad.

Now, I mentioned that Deb is my big sister and as all little sisters know, if your big sister is emulating your father, is wielding a tomahawk, and suggests you hold a rock, you do as you’re told.

So I held the rock.

The blade was lifted, it hung momentarily in the air at the height of its swing, then came down to rend the rock in two.

Well, that was the plan. At the last minute, the rock, which was round, rolled to the right and so instead of the blade of the tomahawk rending the rock in two, it instead sliced through my finger. The pointer finger on my left hand to be precise.

Blood (mine). Screams (mine and Deb’s). Shouts (Dad’s). Swooning (me). Ditching the tomahawk and finding a place to hide (Deb). Swearing (Dad). One daughter getting into trouble.

Now at this point I can imagine that you’d be thinking it would be the tomahawk-wielding big sister who would be getting into trouble as Dad drove (swiftly) to the ambulance station.

And it would be at that point you would be wrong.

Even though the blood dripping off the tomahawk was mine, even though the finger hanging in two pieces was mine, even though the pain in said two-pieced finger was mine, even though the horror of having my tomahawk-wielding sister sitting next to me in the car was mine … it was me getting into trouble.

It seems that I ‘shouldn’t have been so stupid’ and that I ‘should have known better’.

Lesson learned … the hard way.

[I still bear the scar]

[On my hand as well as in my heart]

Posted in Learning, Life

143

My sister wrote through the week about her impulse to pull people away from the edge if she thought they were getting too close.

I too have an impulse, but of a different kind.

I live in an area that is awash with picket fences. Each of those picket fences has a gate.

Now, I happen to know that gates are supposed to be shut, so you can imagine my reaction when I see a gate that’s been left open.

I can feel my arm being pulled out of my jacket pocket, my hand reaching over, my fingers touching the top of the gate; a quick flick, and it’s shut.

I never do it of course, but the impulse is strong.

Each time I control that impulse the middle finger of my left hand aches, deep within it.

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I am transported back to when I was six years old (maybe five). We were dropped off at Mrs Miller’s house every morning before school, and while my memory is hazy, I have a few, very clear recollections.

One involves the gate. I would stand at the gate watching the big kids go past on their way to school. I wouldn’t just stand on the gate though; I’d swing on it. I have a funny feeling that I wasn’t supposed to do that. I’d watch the big kids and wonder what it’d be like to be so grown up that you could walk to school independent of your mum or Mrs Miller. I used to wonder about something else too, in the way little kids do when they’re trying to make sense of their world.

You see, we lived in Miller St at the time, and my sister, brother and I were looked after by Mrs Miller. It went round and round in my head like the boiled lollies my Nan used to keep in a tin in the car would roll around my mouth, sucking all the meaning out of it. What a delightful bit of synchronicity for a young girl to dwell on. How about that, I’d say to the big kids (in my head of course), I live in Miller St and Mrs Miller looks after me before and after school. Don’t you think that’s interesting, I’d ask them (in my head, of course).

One day, swinging surreptitiously on the gate, making sense of my world, something really quite dreadful happened. Somehow my hand slipped into the workings of the gate and my finger was crushed. Had a big kid walked past and pulled the gate shut, not fighting his impulse as all big people should? Or was it my own fault, for swinging when I shouldn’t have been?

I will never know, but what I do know is that I ended up at the doctor’s.

[Note: It’s hard to type with my fingers and toes clenched against the horror of what happened there.]

My fingernail was damaged to such an extent that the doctor ripped it off.

Just like that.

A quick pull, and off it came.

Screams burst forth from me.

I don’t know if I screamed then, but I’m screaming now. Oh, the very thought of it is horrendous.

And so, while I resist the impulse to pull gates shut these days, I do so with a heavy heart: a shut gate causes no damage to five-year-old fingers.

I learnt that the hard way!

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No fighting an impulse over this gate!
Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

2016 Writing Challenge: Day #2

Looking up

The topic for today is to dig through the couch cushions, your purse, or your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find, then share what you were doing that year.

The first coin I laid my hands on was from 1993. It makes me wonder how many pockets it’s been in in the intervening years, and what it’s been used to buy, but that’s getting off-track, and I need to focus on the task at hand.

In 1993, which was twenty-three years ago (in case you were trying to do the calculation) I was in my first year of university. It was an exhilarating time, scary to be sure, but exhilarating. I turned 31 that year, and had had many years of wanting to use my brain and here I was, finally doing it.

I’d been volunteering (full-time) at a community radio station the year before I started university, doing everything from gathering and reading the news (in the time before the internet), updating the music database, creating music playlists for 16 hours of programs (each day), recording and editing sponsorship announcements, interviewing ‘celebrities’ (some of them were even real celebrities: Jeanne Little springs to mind), producing and presenting a talk show in the after lunch timeslot, organising the Schools Out program, and a host of other duties. I loved every minute of it, except the part where the station manager told me that her prayer group were praying for me because I was living in a ‘sinful relationship’. But everything else was fabulous. It was real work, I was learning heaps, and surprisingly I was good at it all.

I was enjoying this work, even though it didn’t pay the bills, and not thinking of venturing into other things. But then an opportunity came knocking, and a deep-seated desire for learning reared its head, and you can’t ignore deep-seated desires now, can you?

The opportunity was in the form of a brochure which appeared on the front counter at the radio station. It was from the University of Tasmania and was promoting a teaching degree in English, Speech and Drama.

I had no ambition to be a teacher, but the English and Drama bits appealed to me (a lot).

I applied, went through the interview process, and was accepted. I can gloss over those moments now, but at the time each of those steps was fraught with self-doubt, what if …, how do you…, but …; agonising over whether I could/should, considering what the practicalities meant (one practicality was having to move to Launceston. I lived a two-hour drive away and it wasn’t possible to travel every day.) There were other, more important, considerations, but this isn’t the place to air them. Suffice to say that throughout the process I was feeling all sorts of trepidation but when the acceptance letter came through, excitement took over. For a time, and then, when the reality struck, trepidation made a return.

I enrolled, bought a house, moved to Launceston mid-February, found a wonderful woman to look after my three-year old daughter, Emma, and in the final week of February started university.

First day, Monday morning, 9am, Drama in the Auditorium. The class was relatively small, less than 20 students, many of whom knew each other, all of whom had studied Drama in college, all of whom were 17 or 18 years old. I sat on the edge of stage wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into. I was struck by how much I was behind, before we’d even started. I had been in a theatre group in my teens, but that was around the time these young people were born. I’d completed senior secondary education, but that was 10 years before (we don’t have time for that story now) … I felt overwhelmed by my lack of experience, my lack of knowledge, my advanced age, my newness to Launceston, even by my lack of work experience. These young people had had more jobs in their 17 or 18 years than I’d had in my 31.

But they were generous and because we had all of our classes together, we got to know each other quickly. I don’t know if that was helped by having to get up close and personal in many of our classes. In Voice and Speech we spent time in the early weeks massaging each other, in Movement we had to choreograph, rehearse and present dance pieces together which sometimes meant rolling over each other on the floor (or eating cheezels off each other’s fingers), in Theatre we had to pair up to run seminars, which meant hours of working closely together, in Drama we had to devise performances and rehearse which again meant working closely with others. We were at uni a lot! We had 24 contact hours that first year and many (many) more spent in rehearsals of one sort or another.

The age difference wasn’t ever an issue; in fact it was an advantage. The others soon learnt that I knew when assignments were due, that I could bake biscuits, that I was reliable when it came time to rehearse, that I wasn’t scared of the lecturers, that I was prepared to negotiate on their behalf, that I would accompany them to meetings when they were worried about those meetings being at the lecturer’s house after dinner (that’s just creepy, Sharon/no it isn’t Ashley, he won’t hurt you), and that I had done the readings. I was worth getting to know!

That first year I studied Voice and Speech, Movement, Theatre, Drama, Tech Theatre, English Literature, and an Education subject. I spent my time outside of class in rehearsals, preparing for seminars and presentations, being an assistant stage manager for the third years, on a two-week placement learning what it was like to be a teacher, sourcing or making costumes and props, creating lighting plans, learning lines, learning how to use the library and how to write academically, reading, talking about plays and poetry and monologues, rolling my pelvis to release my breath, learning how to use my organs of articulation more effectively … learning, always learning.

It was the start of a learning journey that hasn’t stopped.

Do you have memories of 1993? Was it a big, risky, scary year for you too? Please feel free to share your memories in the comments section below.