Confessions of a Post-Spiritual Maverick .... a sort of memoir
CHERYL SENDS HER APOLOGIES
I’m a person disinclined to work or exertion, which, according to Webster’s dictionary, defines me as lazy. So when I drove to my writers’ group the other day and saw Dinah, a fellow writer, drive into the car space closest to the meeting room, I nearly spat the dummy. I would have to walk an extra twenty metres (forty if you count the return journey), a task requiring an effort sufficient to raise an embarrassing sweat, especially if it rained and I needed to break into a gallop in order to avoid getting wet. Webster’s dictionary had been vindicated.
“That’s my spot,” I joked to her after getting out of the car and walking the 20 metres to where she was parked.
“Yeah? What makes it your spot?” she replied.
“Because I always park here.”
“Not always, chooky.”
We both laughed as we made our way past the buildings under construction and towards the meeting room. Before we got to the door, Dinah turned to me. “Cheryl sends her apologies. She’s not feeling well today and has decided to stay home.”
Cheryl is a woman with an infectious laugh who occasionally reads other members’ pieces due to the strong projection of her voice, an attribute she cultivated while performing and directing theatrical productions. Cheryl writes prose like a well-seasoned jazz guitarist plays his instrument, with unflinching verve and an uncanny ability to thread together motifs plucked out of the ether. Her responses to the five-minute writing exercises around prompts, which we undertake each week, attest to the name of our little writers’ group, Wordsflow. The ease with which Cheryl’s words flow is in stark contrast to my intolerably convoluted prose, most of which ends up gathering dust in a filing cabinet or being flung into a rubbish bin. Wordsflow meets each week for three hours on a Friday afternoon. At fifty-six years of age, I’m the second youngest of the troupe - just in front of Cheryl - and one of only two males. Our fearless leader, Rosemary, is a writer equally adept at poetry as she is with prose. She’s particularly interested in a form of Japanese verse known as ‘Haiku’. Unfortunately, I can’t tell the difference between simple parametric attributes such as iambic pentameters and accentual-syllabic verses, or, come to think of it, even dialectical constructed sonnets and anapest literary terms, so I’m particularly adrift when trying to understand Haikus. Which isn’t saying much, given understanding most things these days is quite a daunting prospect for me. In response to Rosemary’s poetry readings, I usually smile and make positive grunting sounds, feigning at least comprehension.
Our other resident poet, Jan, creates what I would nominally call ‘modern’ poetry. Each word or phrase is like a splash of paint on a piece of canvas, something akin in the art world to Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’, or perhaps Picasso’s eccentric cubist geometry in paintings like his ‘femme en pleurs’. I’ve been told by reliable sources that such works of art cannot be fully appreciated by the left-brain, a place my brain naturally, and regrettably inhabits most of my waking life. Thus, I rarely make comments about Jan’s poetry either. I do take refuge, however, in my ability to write nifty jingles, a talent my year-seven teacher once told me could develop into a promising career in advertising (that is, if I first got over my laziness).
There is only one rule to be obeyed at all times in our meetings. No self-negating or critical comments are to precede one’s readings; like, ‘This isn’t very good’, or ‘I don’t know if it’s worth reading’. Using swear words, on the other hand, is not only tolerated, it is actively encouraged. And when it comes to profanities, we invariably turn to Nan, our irreverent muse and master of coarse language. The number of ‘f’ words appearing in some of her stories would make a Redfern pub crawler blush, while her stories of god conversing with the devil would offend all but the most atheistic of people. Nan’s outpourings are presented with a wit and in a vernacular that transforms even the most mundane of stories into a unique experience of Australiana. When she does drop the cussing she still writes terrific prose - as well as very touching poems in a rhyming style that even I appreciate.
Nan’s friend Anne rounds off the holy trinity of JAN – Jan, Anne and Nan - an acronym I used when I first joined Wordsflow in order to remember their names. The three of them would sit next to each other every meeting in the same order on the opposite side of the table. For someone like me with a memory comparable to a leaking tap, I was grateful for their compliance with the seating arrangements. Anne’s writings are pithy, mixing the sweet with the sour, tastes somewhat reminiscent in culinary terms of a popular Chinese pork dish. I have often envisaged her writing a weekly column for a magazine or newspaper on the vagaries of the human condition. Her acerbic prose would sharpen even the bluntest of minds.
Like many writers’ groups, Wordsflow hosts a variety of writing styles and genres. When it comes to descriptive prose, Bronwyn shines. Bron’s writings are elegant and sophisticated, qualities that are matched by the clear and concise manner in which she reads her pieces. From stories of the outback to unrequited young love, Bron vividly takes the reader into the heart of each scene. One can smell the flowers, walk the streets, and feel the tension in the faces of her protagonists. In contrast, Dinah - whose car inhabits my parking spot - occupies the position on the spectrum of writing styles associated with comedy and the new-age. (She may not be so jolly, or spiritually uplifted, when she discovers her car has four flat tyres!) From fun to faeries, from the amusing to the entertaining, Dinah’s pieces capture the intrinsic humour of the silly and the playful. Green frogs dance the watusi on ponds while garden gnomes keep silent watch behind trees and shrubbery. The on-going difficulties Dinah encounters when reading her own shorthand, however, are amusing incidents in and of themselves, and could form the basis of many a funny skit!
The other male member of our group is Andrew, who, like me, is writing a memoir. Andrew is Rosemary’s husband. Together they form the group’s dynamic duo, somewhat reminiscent of TVs Ozzie and Harriet of The Nelson family in the 50s, or the equivalent 90s version, Scully and Mulder of the X-files. Andrew is as adept at writing fiction as he is with children’s stories. His impish grin and soft temperament belies a power that emanates from his pen, adding credence to the saying that the pen is (indeed) mightier than the sword.
Rounding off the regular attendees of Wordsflow is Marie, an ex-schoolteacher, whose pieces radiate with beguiling charm. Whether it’s stories of her family or entries in her daily journal, the warmth of Marie’s prose is like drinking a warm cup of milk chocolate on a cold day while eating chocolate cake - with chocolate icing on top, of course. It’s all scrumptious.
Wordsflow is a committed group of writers who enjoy each other’s company in a free and non-judgemental environment. We joke at the mysterious appearance of words before us each week, and we laugh at our fears and misgivings as we each navigate solo journeys through life’s adventures.
Thus, when someone sends their apologies, it feels as if an essential part of the whole has been absented, like a missing limb. With Cheryl, there is an added dimension to the ensuing disappointment. Cheryl has been diagnosed with cancer and is in the midst of a stirring confrontation with the life-threatening illness. It is much to my relief that she is winning the encounter, and I’m sure every member of Wordsflow sends her their well-wishes. Continually.
To quote Henry Miller,
'Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes. Life has no other discipline to impose, if we would but realize it, than to accept life unquestioningly. Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.'
This piece was inspired by Cheryl
and is dedicated to her.