Category Archives: philosophers

The Highs And Lows of The Writing Journey

As authors we are constantly told to write and share our journey. I decided to send a blog article to the Historical Novel Society of Australasia (HNSA) before presenting on a panel Sunday week (10th Sept) at Swinburne University

Here is a copy of that article and accompanying email by author Elisabeth Storrs

An inspirational story that gives heart to ‘later bloomers’ – Glenice Whitting joins us on the HNSA blog. https://hnsaustralasia.blogspot.com.au/2017/08/writing-and-publishing-hidden-stories.html

Glenice will be appearing in the ‘The Lie of History’: How the Mirror of the Present Shapes the Past for its Own Purposes with Wendy J. Dunn, Diane Murray, Gillian Polack, and Cheryl Hayden in our academic programme. http://hnsa.org.au/academic-programme/

Writing and Publishing Hidden Stories – by Dr Glenice Whitting

Writers often dream of being published and getting their work ‘out there’. I am no exception. I had just completed my Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne University when my first novel, Pickle to Pie co-won the Ilura Press International Fiction Quest. This meant a cash advance, plus publication and I was beside myself with excitement. Pickle to Pie was the story of a boy, a great-hearted German Grossmutter and a man caught between two worlds. It was a record of my father’s life. In his late eighties he would sit for hours telling me, or whoever would listen, the stories of his early life as a boy with a German name living through two world wars and a depression. After he died I discovered a box of old German postcards and decided to write his story. In the process I came to terms with my previously hidden German heritage.

In any society, there are many forms of cultural and personal censorship that prevent the telling of tales considered unpalatable, unsavoury, subversive or insignificant. The result is that written history can be one sided, dominated by strong cultural groups, the stories of minorities unvalued and unrecorded. These stories cry out to be heard and with every life extinguished, we lose part of our collective memory. Writers can give voice to neglected stories of human beings who have been damaged deeply by world events.

To be a guest speaker at the Historical Novel Society’s Conference Academic Program Session four at Swinburne University is a dream come true. On the 10th September from 10am-11am our focus will be on the Lie of History. It is my chance to give voice to the children of German descent who lived in Australia during the last century and struggled to come to terms with their opposing worlds.

I had promised myself, if Pickle to Pie was ever published that I would give up my day job. Hairdressing had always augmented the family income through good times and bad. After the book launch I stuck to my promise, sold the salon and walked away to a life of poverty. I knew I was not a J K Rowling, but I was happy.

My second novel has just been published but it has been a long road to publication. This manuscript has had at least three reincarnations with a change of title each time. Each version has its own merit and has taught me something valuable about the craft of writing. The novel, ‘Something Missing’ began life as ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’: my artefact for my PhD at Swinburne University.

I had often toyed with the idea of studying for my PhD but never dreamt it could happen. However, to be awarded an APA scholarship meant the opportunity to study at Swinburne University. I grabbed it with both hands. With the help of two supervisors I could learn the craft of writing and understand all the rules. I would then know why I was breaking them. I decided to do what so many writers do. I chose to write something close to my heart. Something entirely different. This time it would be based on my thirty-five year pen-friendship with an older American poet, a story about two women, a life changing pen-friendship and the lies they tell each other. I wrote in my journal, I am writing an epistolary, autoethnographic novel grounded in both feminism and post modernist paradigms with the aim of revealing women’s hidden stories in the hope of instigating social change. I believe this embedded story of the journey of self discovery and friendship will carry with it the possibility of nothing less than the restoration of faith in human kind.’

What lofty aims, but here was a chance to use our letters, interspersed with text, to explore the influence this elderly poet had on a young woman who left school at fourteen to become a hairdresser: a woman who unconsciously yearned for the education given to her brother and denied to her. My journey into epistolary fiction using letter, diary and journal extracts, plus snippets of poetry, had begun.

I began work using an older American woman’s voice in first person narration; an elderly Australian woman in second person; and the young Australian mum in third person. The story would have embedded dialogue, following author, Debra Adelaide’s example, where only the formatting and actions of the characters, rather than dialogue marks, reveal to the reader who is speaking at that time. The elderly Australian woman would reveal the pitfalls and joys of writing a novel in a humorous, tongue in cheek, vein.

For three and a half years I am caught up in a world where my mind kept bouncing backwards and forwards between my creative writing of this novel and the formal academic exegesis.

Friends warned me that I would have a meltdown post PhD, but I was convinced that would not happen to me. I was too strong, too resilient. That sort of breakdown only happened to other people. The wail of the ambulance soon bought me back to earth with a thud. I asked my adult son what section of hospital I was in. He replied, ‘The resuscitation room, Mum.’ Two weeks later, just home from hospital and feeling weak and tired, I had resigned myself to missing my already paid for graduation ceremony. My son hired a wheelchair, determined I would make it.

There were only three PhD degrees awarded that night. I waited in the wings for all the BA’s, Masters and double degrees to be awarded before my son wheeled me over to join the queue waiting for their turn to hear their name called and to climb the stairs to the stage. Determined to walk under my own steam, doubts filled my mind. What if I couldn’t manage the stairs? What if I fainted, collapsed, or worse still, threw up when the chancellor, in all his finery handed me my much sort after certificate. What if…

To leave my wheelchair and walk on stage wearing the hired floppy Tudor bonnet and colourful gown was a highlight in my life. I had an overwhelming feeling of achievement and self worth that no one could take away from me. Afterwards, I thankfully joined my peers on the stage and proudly marched out with the academic procession only to flop into the wheelchair waiting by the door. The mature aged student journey from VCE to PhD had required passion, dogged determination and guts, but it had also been the most exciting, exhilarating time in my life. I knew I would miss it and all the friends I’d made along the way.

Using my recently gained title of Dr Glenice Whitting I sent my edited and, according to me, perfect manuscript out to publishers and waited for the offers to come rolling in. Nothing happened. Slowly, relentlessly, one after the other a stream of rejections arrived. ‘Thank you for sending Hens Lay People Lie, however…’

I was caught in a catch-22 situation. To get a publisher I needed an agent but to get an agent I needed a publisher. I also took a long hard look at what I’d written, and following the suggestions of American author/editor, Cindy Vallar, I inserted quotation marks to all the dialogue and renamed the manuscript ‘What Time is it There?’ Still the rejections arrived. It was ‘too academic’ too many voices, too literary, too hard to read and so on. Had I, over the years of study, begun to sound as if I’d swallowed a dictionary? I knew I had to, once again, rewrite the manuscript. It took a huge leap of faith to take it from literary fiction into popular fiction.

The third reincarnation is the one that is published. It was an invaluable lesson. To be a writer I had to be myself and write the way I really wanted to write, from the heart. I took out the overarching second person narrating character, made both Maggie and Diane third person narration, threw in a handful of suspense and Voilà …’Something Missing’ was born. It had gone beyond academia, beyond epistolarity into what is now called, popular faction. I was over the moon with excitement the day I received the email from Tim Ridgway and Melanie V Taylor of the international MadeGlobal Publishing. They loved the story and would I sign the contract?

Madeglobal Contact Form

It is every writer’s dream to hold their book in their hands. It gives them a chance to thank all the people who have helped along the way. There have been so many people I could list who have patiently and painstakingly worked with me through Pickle to Pie and all three versions of Something Missing. However, there is an indescribable joy in being able to finally thank them formally, via an acknowledgment page.

It is invaluable for a writer to participate in conferences and to be part of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia. The HNSA provides the opportunity to talk with readers and authors and discuss writing and promoting ideas. The members are so supportive and it feels like you belong to one large family. Why don’t you join us during this stimulating and inspirational weekend filled with talks, feedback and historical writing workshops? Go to HNSA and check out the program.

Glenice Whitting left school at fourteen to become a hairdresser. Her journey as a mature-aged student too her from VCE to PhD in creative writing. Her debut novel, Pickle to Pie, was published by Ilura Press. Her latest novel, Something Missing, was launched at Swinburne University in December 2016. Both books are available from Dymocks book stores and at her websiteSomething Missing is also available though Made GlobalBook Depository, and Amazon. Connect with Glenice on her website or on Facebook at Writers and their Journey.

As part of our HNSA 2017 academic program, Glenice will be discuss: The Lie of History: How the mirror of the present shapes the past for its own purposes with Wendy J Dunn, Diane Murray, Gillian Polack and Cheryl Hayden.

Admission to the academic programme is free but bookings are essential. You can find more details about Lie of History session on our website or buy tickets here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University.

This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two-stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses.You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.

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Writing, Food And Friendship

Sharing Two Favourite recipes

Life can revolve around the dinner table where we share daily events, joys and sorrows. But is this becoming a thing of the past? Many modern families take a packaged dinner out of the freezer and zap it in the microwave. Quick, easy and to all accounts nourishing. For the body, yes, but not the soul.

Picture 018_1                    meal2 Several years ago I attended the Qualitative Inquiry Conference at the University of Illinois USA. While there, I had a chance to meet for the first time, a friend I met over ten years ago on the internet . Cindy took me to a home cooked lunch in an Amish home. We sat with other guests and discussed families, friendship, different cultures and of course the unseasonable heat. Without air-conditioning we sweltered. United by a common bond we reached for chicken and salads, laughed and swapped stories. It was as if we had known each other all our lives. index I arrived home to Melbourne to rain, hail and a top temperature of 10 Celsius. I soon grabbed my slow cooker. There is nothing better on a cold winter’s day than sharing a hearty beef casserole, crusty bread and stories with family and friends. however, for me it is the getting together, the talking and sharing that counts. If I had a put a feather on our plates we would have thought it was chicken.

On the wall of the Amish home was a beautifully needle worked sampler.

Doing what you like is freedom. Liking what you do is happiness.

My passion is writing and the journey it is taking me. Years ago I would never have believed the novel I was sweating over would be published. I certainly would not have believed that I’d have completed my academic journey and, for the first time in my life, travelled alone to America. I love the old homily; Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the gift: the present. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring. In the meantime here are a couple of recipes that have become favourites in this household.

indexAmish Overnight Pasta Salad 2 cups lettuce (cut up) 4oz cooked tiny shell macaroni 2 hard boiled eggs (sliced) 1 cup ham (strips) 1 cup Frozen peas (thawed) ½ cup Swiss cheese (shredded) ½ cup Miracle Whip ¼ cup dairy sour cream 1 tab onion (chopped) 1 tab mustard. METHOD: Put lettuce in bottom of a casserole dish. Sprinkle salt and pepper. Top with cooled macaroni. Place egg slices on top. Layer ham, peas, and cheese. Combine Miracle whip, sour cream, onion and mustard . Spread over salad sealing to edge of dish. Cover and refrigerate 24 hrs. Sprinkle with paprika if desired. Toss before serving. And below is one of my all time favourite recipes.

index Auntie Clarice’s Quick And Easy Casserole 1 kilo scotch fillet (cubed) or 6 forequarter lamb chops (cut in half) Dip in seasoned flour In pan, brown meat and 2 large sliced onions. Add 1 cup chopped green and red capsicum, ½ cup chopped carrots, ½ cup chopped celery. Broccoli can also be added. Place in slow cooker or casserole dish Mix 1 large tin tomato soup 1 dessertspoon Worcester sauce 1 tab vinegar 1 dessert curry Pour over ingredients and simmer or bake 1 1/2 hrs (or 8 hrs in slow cooker).

These days I also take short cuts and buy some of the tasty seasoning packets for slow cookers/crock pots available in local supermarkets.

I love sharing a meal with loved ones because I revel in the communication and conversation that bounces around steaming bowls. It’s a chance to keep in touch, to celebrate successes and empathise with disasters. It gives me the opportunity to show the people in my life that they mean the world to me.

Writing Healing Life Stories

For writers, writing is how they make sense of their world.

There is a long human tradition of writing to make sense of events that effect the self. Writing can be a way to heal the emotional and physical wounds that are an inevitable part of life

class jpg

Some people use writing as a way to work through emotional issues by privately writing of grief in personal journals and diaries. Others write and publish memoirs such as the heart-rending Paula (1995), in which Chilean writer Isabel Allende interweaves autobiographical fragments into a letter to her dying twenty-eight year old daughter. Two recent memoirs about coping with the loss of a loved one are Megan O’Rouke’s The Long Goodbye (2011), about mourning her mother and Joyce Carol Oates’s A Widow’s Story (2011).

The most touching of all is perhaps Sandra Arnold’s Sing No Sad Song: losing a daughter to cancer (2011). These books add to a growing sub-genre that includes Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking (2005), a memoir of her husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and the wife and mother’s efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. In her latest book, Blue Nights (2011), Didion mourns the loss of her family, youth and ability to write. David Rieffs’ Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008) is a loving tribute to his mother, the writer Susan Sontag, and her final battle with cancer. In a similar vein, Anne Roiphe’s Epilogue (2008), explores late-life widowhood.

This mourning of mothers, daughters, sons, husbands and friends shows the reader that their experience is not unique. They are not alone.

Last year I ran workshops concentrating on teaching the craft of writing and discovered that many students were recording their own traumatic stories. They wanted to make sense of their lives and hoped sharing their experiences would help others. The stories were far reaching and covered how life threatening illnesses, drug addiction etc. changed the lives, not only of the person involved, but also the extended family.

For this reason I’ve decided the 2015 workshops beginning in April at the Living Now Wellbeing Centre, Studio 7/14 Hartnett Drive Seaford will focus on the writing of Healing Life Stories.  The ten week course begins Tuesday April 14th until June 16th (10am -12noon).  If interested ring 97724566

Writing can heal your life. It allows us to find our creativity, write our stories, become more whole and expand our horizons.

 letter writing

Random notes jotted into an exercise book helps us to sort the tangled web that is our lives. My début novel, Pickle to Pie began in this way. Ostensibly I was writing my father’s story, but after the book was published, I realized it was my way of dealing with my hidden German heritage.

small final pickle coverBefore I was born, because of the ill feeling towards German people after two disastrous world wars, my Australian born father renounced his German ancestry. He also changed the family name by deed poll from Schlessinger to Sterling. When I was seven I found an old photo album in the bottom of a wardrobe and asked my father why the sombre groups of people looked different. He hesitated then replied that in 1885 his grandparents migrated (not from Germany) from Belgium. I didn’t meet my German grandmother until I was twelve and by then knew not to ask questions. The feeling of release once the story of my father’s life was published was incredible. I finally understood the whispered background to my childhood and could let go of the past.

Recently completing my second book, ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’ I now see that I’ve done it again. Written a story that explores my life journey. This book has moved beyond my childhood to enable me to make sense of my adult life. However, when I was three quarters of the way through writing the manuscript about two women, two countries and a life altering pen-friendship, my penfriend died and I was grieving. I found myself trying to writing while mourning. At first I couldn’t write, until I realised how much words like regret, love, loss, guilt, memory and remorse have power over our lives.

Hélène Cixous, a French feminist philosopher, claims that, ‘Words are the doors to all other worlds. At a certain moment for the person who has lost everything, be it a being or country, language becomes the country. One enters the country of languages’ Cixous 1992: 19).

cixous 2When Cixous was eleven, her father died. She describes this event as having a formative influence on her as a writer. Loss and the need for consolation became key motivating forces in her writing life. Her advice to those struggling with trauma in their lives is, “We should write as we dream; we should try and write, we should all do it for ourselves, it’s very healthy, because it’s the only place where we never lie.

IS TRAUMA WRITING CATHARTIC, OR IS THE WRITER RETRAUMATISED?

If the writer revisits painful emotions there is extensive literature about the risk of slipping into depression (Kammerer & Mazelis 2006; Stone 2004; Wurtzel 1999). Joy Livingwell, online columnist for the Neuro Linguistic Programming website, for example, warns of the danger inherent in reliving grief when she advocates that it is essential for the person involved ‘to get the useful life lessons from less-than-positive memories, without getting upset or re-traumatized’.

Therefore, if writing can be cathartic, it can also be dangerous. To avoid the danger of slipping into depression, writers need as safe space. A journal can be such a safe emotional space; a gap between reality and imagination where feelings and emotions can be intuited, articulated or performed. A space to write. Yet, there is the constant danger of being brought undone by your own words: stabbed by your stories, bowled over by both understanding and misunderstanding. Terry Williams writes: ‘Words are always a gamble, words can be like splinters of cut glass’. Writers attending the 2015 Healing Life Stories workshops will explore this aspect of trauma writing and learn how to protect themselves.

I’ve found writing can take you places you’ve never been before; some good, some bad. However, for me, writing about my life has been an uplifting experience. It has enabled me to let go of the past and move on with anticipation to the next exciting stage of my life journey.

You can write your healing stories about yourself or someone else important in your life  either for your own benefit or with the aim of helping others. When writing the story of my father’s turbulent life,  I found myself writing with passion and compassion. Above my computer is a quote by Australia’s famous author Bryce Courtenay 

‘There is no greater tribute than to lovingly record a life.’

imagesCADRYGU9

Moroka and Memory

Writers often rely on memories for their stories, but how reliable is our memory?

Memory is a central part of how we think of ourselves, and indeed a central strand of what we might know. Memory is not simply a mechanical process. It works in various ways and the majority of writers use it in their writing. The philosopher John Locke considered individual identity is inextricably linked to memory—we are only what we remember being. But how reliable is memory when we tell ourselves stories about our past?

Precious memories. They sustain us during times of stress and fatigue. In the freeze of winter, we warm ourselves with remembered images of hands stretched out towards blazing log fires. During a heatwave, it may be the memory of splashing through waves into the cool sea. But how reliable are these images? Memory can also act like a dream catcher, sifting out unpleasant experiences and retaining only the golden images that gladden our hearts.

licola

The High Country in Victoria Australia, part of the Great Dividing Range is a beautiful, fragile Alpine region. It is part of my life, the stuff of my dreams. In summer, when Melbourne smoulders in oppressive heat, I remember dipping my hand into icy mountain streams, hiking over grassy plains, cool mountain lookouts, a blanket thrown under a shady gumtree, sandwiches and my laughing children. On the lower slopes are plump blackberries and wild plums for the taking. It is easy to visualize the Ganai Kurnai aboriginal groups who travelled up to the high plains in summer to gorge and fatten on the plentiful fruit and nourishing Bogong Moths.

Camping

It was a hot, dry January. On a sudden whim, fuelled by joyous youthful memories of sleeping under canvas and sitting around a campfire I managed to talk my husband into reluctantly going camping again. We packed our car to capacity with tent, poles, stove, chairs, a box of food and a picnic basket.

caravan park

It takes five hours to travel from Carrum to the foot of the Wonnangatta/Moroka High Plains. On the last part of the journey the sun disappeared, followed by gusty squalls which settled into a steady drumming on the roof of the car. Memories flooded back of putting up a tent in the rain. Not pleasant. I sighed in relief when my husband suggested we stay in a cabin overnight. The Licola Caravan Park had only one small cabin left to rent. Mary, lessee of the Park and General Store was ecstatic about the downpour and the sun thirsty mountains breathed sighs of heat relief. I recognised the land’s need, but the one room cabin didn’t have a shower or toilet and the mental picture of me squelching across to the park’s amenities block at night was daunting to say the least. Thunder and lightning split the skies and any thoughts of a peaceful night’s sleep soon vanished. We placed an umbrella and torch by the door.

cockatoo 2

We woke to sunshine and the sound of cockatoos squawking and squabbling in querulous voices, like grumpy old men protesting their fate. The coin-operated showers were surprisingly bountiful and outweighed the sight of the night’s collection of black insects buzzing in their final death throes. On the window ledge of the shower was a half empty can of Bundaberg Rum and Cola. Maybe alcohol helped blot out the bugs.

Mary, was soon busy pumping petrol, selling groceries and giving directions to The Bastards Neck camp site to groups of men. Their battered bush hats and Akubras pulled well down over brown faces, shading blue eyes. Motorbikes with Jim Beam stickers, four wheel drive utes with Rhino Packs, pack racks and bull bars offload deer hunters, trout fishermen and bush walkers. Most were on father/son bonding trips. The ariels whipping in the wind were so tall I imagined them receiving messages from the moon.

daisy 2    daisies    daisy whire

On the High plains the flowers bloomed as if they knew summer would soon be gone. Gold everlasting daisies soaked up the sun and scattered clusters of white everlastings looked like patches of leftover snow. We stopped by a stream to pick plump blackberries. I’d forgotten how the spiky blackberry canes snag any exposed skin and the blue/black juice stains. In spite of deep scratches and constantly swatting blood thirsty mosquitoes, I managed to fill several containers. My husband picked wild cherry plums and apples. Later we sat on sun-warmed rocks to cool our hot feet in the creek. I was at peace with the world, until I noticed the biggest, hairiest spider clinging to the underside of my rock. I remembered to grab the blackberries before frantically clambering up the bank.

When we spread our blanket under a shady tree for our picnic lunch, huge black March flies descended and we become their lunch. Hundreds of tiny bush flies joined in the fun. We finished our lunch in the car, but we are made of strong stuff. A few March fly bities are not going to chase us away. We donned our backpacks and hiked to Higgins hut, one of several cattlemen’s huts dotted here and there over the Alpine region. Built with axes and bush saws they are rough but serviceable shelters for local cattlemen, lost skiers and weary bush walkers. Dry wood, several cans of baked beans, flour and sugar; are enough to keep body and soul together until help arrives.

licola - horses

Mountain cattlemen have mustered cattle in the area for over one hundred years and consider themselves caretakers of the High Plains. Some even try their hand at poetry with varying degrees of success. These two verses are scrawled on the log walls of Higgins hut.

higgins

What are my loves?
My friends,
My church
My Tavern
And my only wealth?
These plains

Maybe it was a lost skier who replied

Wild dogs glory
Stockman’s hell
Land of deep thinkers
I bid thee farewell

When black clouds once again dropped their liquid load we too headed for home, the Ford Explorer packed with unused camping gear and containers filled with blackberries, cherry plums and wild apples. The memory of vicious March flies, spiders and prickly blackberry canes began to slowly disappear and be replaced with the bountiful vision of dishes filled with fresh fruit and ice-cream, stewed plums and apple pie.

blackberry       pie

Okay, so the blackberries squashed, the cherry plums were sour and the apples ‘woody’, but my memory dream-catcher was already in action. The following January I once again dreamt of grey-green mountains, wild flowers, and picnics. Like the aboriginals drawn by the thought of fat Bogong Moths, I returned to the Wonnangatta/Moroka High Plains. However, before I left I booked a cabin with a bathroom.

Writers come from all walks of life and choose many different paths to achieve their dreams

Coping with challenging theories

We live in a wonderful world that is full of charm and adventure. There is no end to  the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.’—      Jawaharlal Nehru

Writers come from all walks of life and choose many different paths to achieve their dreams. My way turned out by chance to be an academic pathway. I have never regretted the change of direction or the journey that unfolded. However, I constantly worried whether I could achieve my creative writing dreams. I soon discovered all I needed to do was embrace the fear and enthusiastically  accept the challenge.

When I began my Masters by coursework and minor thesis at Melbourne university I did not have the university based background of many students. Returning to study after leaving school at fourteen and still working as a hairdresser meant taking evening courses. I began VCE at TAFE followed by a Bachelor of Arts at Monash. By the end of the BA I had discovered my passion for writing. From there, instead of doing the usual Honours year at university, my priority became to complete a diploma of Professional Writing and Editing back at TAFE. Therefore, when I decided to tackle a Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne University I did not have the required research background.

Writing the Unconscious was a seminar-based subject that explored the implications of theories of the self and how the unconscious affects modern artists and the creative process. Thank goodness this subject’s lecturer was Dr Dominique Hecq. She is a talented, nurturing and understanding soul and I tested every ounce of her patience. We were studying philosophers such as Donald Winnicott, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and Jacques Lacan 250px-Lacan2I had never heard of them, leave alone studied them. My decision to give my presentation on Lacan was because it was just before the Easter break and I would have the four day holiday to recover from my hairdressing job and constant study. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. One student said, ‘How brave of you to choose Lacan’ and I wondered what she was talking about, but my knees quivered. Here is an extract from my writing journal

Lacan, plus Freud, dash de Saussure, accent Levi-Strauss

 A spotlight bold and bright highlights my desk. In the shadows papers festoon every inch of the floor and the filing cabinet is a hanging garden of paper. Outside, the sun is rosebud pink under dark clouds and will soon rise above them, lost to me for another day. Why am I doing this? Why study until my eyes won’t focus and my head tips towards the computer screen hoping for some support? The only time available in this busy life is between three and six AM and today I’m giving a presentation on, who else but that poet/theorist Lacan, or Lacoh as the French would say.

I look at what is written on the computer screen. Scratchy figures slash and divide. The hieroglyphics of a distorted mind, my mind that grapples with the Rebus puzzle of The Agency of the Letter…since Freud.

In a Rebus puzzle often attention is drawn to some part of the picture, often by an arrow or underlining, indicating that this is where we should be looking for the clue. Here the arrow points to the first AID, and thus the answer is first aid.

Snores, loud and sonorous. Sound sleep at last. A cough. He will soon stretch, yawn and reach for me. In pyjamas and ski socks I must slip back to bed and pretend that I haven’t moved, not a muscle, not a twitch for an entire night. “Want a cup of tea?“ I watch the wisps of steam rise and feel acid gnaw at my insides. Today. Today I give my presentation. A week of intense study, a week spent locked up with a dead Frenchman who wants to tease me, taunt me, frustrate and fascinate me. He has become more intimate more real, and I possibly know him better, than the body in the bed. And best of all? He can’t answer back.

My brain feels like melting jelly. It slops within my cranium. If I tip forward the top of my head will fly open and a river of words, theories, algorithms and metaphors will spill over the kitchen floor, into the laundry and out into the yard. Steady girl, you’re losing it. You still have until 3:pm before you have to catch that train. Plenty of time to pull it all together. Saussure Nothing is working, John Muller is not helping. Joan Gallop is taking me down the feminist path. I’m fascinated with her thoughts on the Name of the Father, and is that what she really feels about the phallus? Maybe….tick, tick, tick Back to Muller. Has he got the key? I flip pages, faster and faster looking for the door to the secret garden. The black lump in the base of my stomach drops even further. If I had a penis it would be petrified by now. No makeup, still in my socks and clutching my oldest cardigan around me I open the door.

“Come in, come in, how is your new home? Do you miss Victoria.” They are unexpected, uninvited. “Not putting you out are we?” “Not a scrap. The house is a mess but I’m sure you can cope with that.Toasted sandwiches? Cheese and tomato?”

“Goodbye. See you next time you’re down.”

Print the presentation. Where is he? Where has he gone? I wasn’t away that long. Couldn’t Lacan wait? Instead, he has slipped into the shadows, buried deep in an unconscious inaccessible to me. Nothing makes sense. Signifier, signified, symbolic system, simmering symptom. SSssssss. Es in German means the Id. Lacan all over the bed, rocking my beliefs, spinning in my head and dragging me down on the floor. To weep, to moan, to curl up in the foetal position. beaten, betrayed. Too late, too late. Calls from downstairs. Pain that transcends my own, that call me back, to caress, to care. Can I go? Can I leave my husband for Lacan? Husband insists, he will be okay. Go girl go. I catch the train just in time. Signifier, signified, symbolic system, simmering symptom. He has returned. Out of the shadows leaps Lacan to bless, to inspire, to invigorate and lead. logo_home Giving my presentation on Lacan at Melbourne university was a turning point in my life. I learnt to overcome fear and ‘go for broke’ as the saying goes; that nothing is as bad as I think it is going to be. But most of all, I learnt to take a chance and no matter what the outcome, I would survive. The world opened up for me and I now live by that philosophy. Accept the challenge, face the fear and go for it. .