A Special Story

“Tell us a story!” my cousins chorus, scrambling onto their beds and looking at me earnestly. My Aunt is in Australia and my Uncle is in France – I’m still jet-lagged from the flight over and struggling to stay awake through dinner. It’s their bed time and, after the story, it will be my bed time.

“OK, let’s see … Oh, here’s a good book!” I pull the slimmest book I can see from the shelf. I really, really want to get to bed.

“No, a Special Steffy Story!” Timmy protests and the others nod their agreement.

“Let’s read this book,” I say quickly, sitting down and starting it before they can protest further. They settle as I get through the first page and they are listening intently by the second. Except Timmy. He stomps out of the bedroom. I don’t worry too much and I’m sure he’ll come back after another page. He’s probably sitting outside the room secretly listening.

I finish the book, tuck the two remaining cousins into bed, and go in search of Timmy. I’m shocked to find him with tears streaming over his face and immediately feel guilty for not pursuing him straight away. I had no idea how upset he was. He must miss his parents, or perhaps one of his siblings annoyed him without me noticing.

“What’s wrong?” I tuck my arm around his shoulders. “Daddy will be home tomorrow and Mummy will be home in four more sleeps!”

“I want a Steffy Story!” The tears flow anew.

“But that was a super book! Better than my silly stories!”

“No,” he protests, “yours are the best! It’s not the same!”

“Oh.” I look around the room and sigh.

I start with: “Once upon a time there was a boy named Timmy … ” and the story slowly unfolds. A Gryphon flies in through the window, lost and in need of a friend. Timmy helps him. Usually all of my cousins make an appearance in the stories, but tonight’s story is just for Timmy.

Timmy calms down as the Gryphon makes new friends and finds his way home. I’m exhausted and as I tell the story my eyes are half-closed, aching with fatigue. When I speak the words “The End” my eyes open and I see his bright smile, his shining eyes. It was a silly story – a nonsense story. He loved it.

He asks me questions about the Gryphon. He tells me a slightly different version of the story. We laugh and imagine different endings, different adventures to be had.

Timmy goes to bed and I sit down with a notebook, the pages fresh and untouched. I’ve kept detailed travel journals for the past few months, though not as much recently. I haven’t written a story since … How long has it been? Five years? Six? The silly “Special Steffy Stories” each evening have been a little ritual to get them settled into bed. They’re simple and ridiculous.

Yet each story gives my cousins such joy. I had forgotten how important a story can be to a child, forgotten how enthralled they get with magic and adventure and … the simple enjoyment that comes from a simple story.

I look at the first page in the notebook. I don’t know where to start. I have not written in years.

I write “For Timmy”.

That’s a good start, I think.

Then I write.

I haven’t stopped since.

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

Thursday can be a funny day for me. It’s the kind of day that I wake up and feel instantly like I should pull the covers back over my head, the kind of day when I get to work and immediately regret not doing the covers-over-head thing, the kind of day when I sit on the bus home thinking about the covers I’m about to drag over my head … You know, it’s just that kind of day.

Yesterday was different. After two weeks of feeling apathetic towards my writing and not really caring who lived or who died on my pages, I spent yesterday reading over the first 5000 words of a story I’d been working on. You know what? It wasn’t half bad. Every niggling doubt about the quality of the writing was wrong. Hey, I’m not saying it’s brilliant, but it ain’t bad.

I woke up yesterday feeling like I was finally ready for the world. The world has been there, waiting, my whole life – yesterday, I finally felt (for a fraction of a second) like I was ready for it.

This feeling was quickly replaced with the awareness that I had to go to work. I enjoy my job – don’t get me wrong – but sometimes it interferes with my desire to sit down and write uninterrupted and undisturbed and undistracted.

I thought about how I was going to get through the evening.

I thought about things I love, things I look forward to.

They boiled down to three simple things: food, wine, words. (Actually there were more but they are unobtainable, such as my cat curled up in my lap. Let’s be realistic.)

I promised myself bread, cheese, chocolate, wine, and writing when I got home. I make this promise (or similar) regularly and rarely act on it – the cost of such things means it’s an indulgence that cannot be regular, and often I get home and cannot function well enough to write or even contemplate food.

So. I went to work. I came home.

I kept my promise to myself. I doubled the word count and only stopped when my hands were cramping and fingertips were numb.

If I can’t keep a promise to myself, how can I expect others to keep their promises to me?
What is the value of “my word” if I don’t value it myself?

My writing wish for you this week is for you to make a promise to yourself. It might be something simple: “I promise to write tonight”, or something indulgent: “I promise to open that special bottle of wine this weekend”. It might be something that requires planning: “I promise to get to Paris for Christmas”. Whatever your promise is, keep it. You’re worth a thousand kept promises.

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

Currently I am indulging in blueberry bagels with Nutella, Ginger Nut biscuits dipped in Irish Breakfast Tea, and any other food that my body is craving. Having spent years being fastidious about every morsel that passed my lips (I’ve done every fad diet under the sun, and I’ve even done the “sensible” approach of exercise and healthy eating), I’ve reached a point where I care not about how many calories I’ve consumed in a day but about my feelings of good health. Sure, I still have days when I look in the mirror and think eek, lay off the carbs, but then I promptly go out and get some dumplings. Mmm, I do love dumplings …

This reaction, you see, has changed. It used to be an all-out glaring competition with my reflection as I ripped apart every tiny thing that was wrong with my body (the stretch marks, the cellulite, the big hips and small bust … right down to hating the position of certain freckles and the angle of my toes) before starving myself for the day (and then crashing with a binge of chocolate, cheese, wine, and whatever other food I could get my hands on).

In tandem with my changed approach to food and transformed perception of my appearance (I still have the stretch marks, cellulite, big hips and small bust – they haven’t disappeared and aren’t likely to vanish any time soon) has been a changed approach to writing.

When I write, I no longer rip apart every word that appears on the page. I no longer glare at sentences and point out their faults. Like my body, my writing simply is. Instead of criticising it and hating it, I’m accepting it for what it is and making choices based on the fact that right now, everything is great. Right now, my big hips look great in yoga pants. Right now, my extended metaphors aptly describe a character. Right now, my love for Ginger Nuts is being sated. Right now, my long-winded exchanges of dialogue fit the purpose of a draft and they’ll be made snappier when I revise.

Maybe it’s about perspective, but I like to think it’s about love and acceptance.

My body has been around the world. I’ve fed it belgian waffles in Brussels and pizza in Naples (and a few foods I couldn’t quite recognise or name in other countries) – and right now, I’m halfway through a packet of Ginger Nuts and I’m feelinggood.

My writing was abandoned at one point, just as I would have liked to abandon my body for a new one – one with bigger breasts, narrower thighs, and a flat stomach. But writing waited for me to realise how silly I’d been, how thoroughly ridiculous I was to try and disown core parts of who I am.

I’m learning to be kind to myself. I’m giving myself what I want and need, rather than trying to starve and berate my body and writing into submission.

It’s working out. As a consequence, my writing is improving because I’m actually writing rather that convincing myself in the first sentence that I should quit while I’m ahead. Powered by Ginger Nuts and Irish Breakfast Tea, words are pouring out and ideas are flowing.

A friend recently said to me, “Wow, Stef, you look great! You’ve lost so much weight!”

“No,” I laughed, “I haven’t lost anything. I’ve just … gained happiness.”

My writing wish for you this week is for you to indulge. Whether it’s a trip to the day spa for a massage or a triple chocolate fudge cake just for you, enjoy yourself. Write a list of the things you love to do and do them! Then write about it – good things come from being kind to yourself and giving yourself what you want and need.

Inspiration and Triangles

It was Pythagoras.  All my stories go back to him: Pythagoras and his triangles.

a^2 + b^2 = c^2

It was all just so simple.  With one equation, I could now calculate the shadows cast by trees, the ladders propped against houses, and the forgotten pieces of spaghetti that slowly burned, leaning against the boiling pot of water.  I got it.  And that never happened.  Not in math class.

Math was like a library. It wasn’t like English, which could get rowdy, or biology, which could get gross, or French, which could get incomprehensible.  Math was a silent haven, disturbed only by the occasional snore of those lulled to sleep by the white noise of logarithms and permutations.  It was dull, but quiet, and if you needed to pay attention, you could.  And I needed to pay attention. So I did.  I took notes, listened to the white noise, and generally  stayed awake.

Until Pythagoras.

got it.  Him and his triangles – it was all so simple.  I didn’t need the textbook exercises, the chalkboard demonstrations, the lectures. For once in my mathematical life, something came easy.  So while others were catching up on sleep or struggling to understand the squares of this and that, I found another use for my time in class.

Behind my fat math textbook, I hid even fatter books.

All of a sudden, the lengths of shadows and ladders and spaghetti seemed insignificant when compared with the lengths of battles and ancient swords with names and ships that spoke and mist-clad islands that moved and giant sand-worms that devoured buildings and on and on and on … Once the pages started turning, they didn’t stop.  And the days, like the pages, passed swiftly and the class moved on from Pythagoras and his triangles.

But it was too late.  I was miles away.

Then it was June which came accompanied, as it tends to do, by the exam.  But there were no battles on this exam.  No swords, named or unnamed.  No misty islands, moving or fixed.  No ships, speaking or mute.  No sand worms.  There were triangles.  And the things that came after.  I dug into my memory and I found those triangles.  But everything else was a blur of battles and swords and islands and ships and sand worms.

Then I knew: maybe, just maybe, my destiny wasn’t to be found in this exam or in a math classroom, and maybe, just maybe, I’d better try my hand at something else.

And it turns out, some people write stories.

And ever since that one little equation didn’t require my concentration, stories have been my constant companions.

So thanks, Py, for giving me the chance to drift off into other worlds and get swept off my feet by my true love: fiction.

~ Aelius

My Weekly Writing Wish for You

This week’s Inspired to Write post was written by the very talented Louise Jaques whose response prompted a rapid fire of words from my mother along the lines of “wow, wow, wow”. After visiting her blog, Mum raved about a particular post that I, too, thoroughly enjoyed. At my mother’s request, I went through the lovely connections all the way back to the original “how to write an ‘I am from’ poem” and promptly did so … Since then, there has been serious contemplation around where I am from – the wonderful experiences I have had, am having, and will have; the amazing people in my life who have influenced the person I am now and the person I am still growing into; and the delight of the process of reflection on my own personal history.

What delighted me as I traced my way through the various “I am from” posts was the way each person not only expressed their own unique upbringing but also adopted their own way to do this. My own “I am from” poem grew and developed as more memories and traditions came to me, and reading it makes me feel like I’ve put together a montage in words – snapshots of my life, each formed with the curve of a letter, the sound of a word, the meaning of a fragmented sentence.

In the interest of being more open and sharing my work, here it is …

I am from paper and books and ink, from Parker and Moleskine and Irish Breakfast Tea.
I am from the long-awaited rain, the creak of the windmill at night, the belly-flops in the plane.
I am from red earth, whispering gums, whirring cicadas, fragile bird eggs held in small hands.
I am from cups of tea and unsated talent, from strong women and wise men, from Courts and Thompson and Darrawong.

I am from the delight in words and respite in music, the crocheted blankets made from hand-spun wool, the 12 hour trip home, the Sunday morning phone calls,
From finish everything on your plate and I’ve never made a packet cake mix,
From I wish you’d do something with your writing and we have the same colour eyes, Pa,
From we want a special story and don’t stay up too late reading,
From My Sister and My Dranny, from Baby Bear and Steffy.

I am from nature and reverence for the earth,
From scented candles in trays of polished stones and inspiring words from admired people,
From smelling the rain and listening to it fall on the tin roof,
From appreciation of beauty, encouraged artistry, and celebration of creativity,
From frogs in the bathroom and geckos on the ceiling,
From faded music pages on the piano, an antique banjo with a story, and old violins on the wall.

I am from the Outback and the Skyscrapers, the dry dirt and the uneven pavement, the thousand stars of night and the thousand city lights,
I am from roast mutton with rosemary and salt, decadent chocolate cake with berries and cream, cherry ripe ice cream eaten from the bottom up, toast for dinner.
I am from the playing piano at Mass, the warm towels at Widgee Downs, the singing songs at the top of our lungs, the reading books under the covers with a torch, the sitting on the back of the ute, the five kids on a four-wheeler, the throwing darts in the shed, the ache of goodbyes.

I am from the Melbee Cottage walls, the boxes in storage, the journals never re-opened, the petals seen through my sister’s lens, the stories half-finished and the poems incomplete, and the reflection in the mirror that shows all of these things.

“You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?” – Dr. Seuss

My writing wish for you this week is for you to reflect on where it is you are from. Write your own “I am from” poem in whatever variation you choose. Think of the wonderful things that make you you, and celebrate them.