Story Archive

eSwag-22

EDITING A LIFE

Posted on July 9, 2012 by
Raymond
on the road at
McLaren Vale
Tommie and the ship St Stephens Church Paying a dog's respects gravestones through arch Captain John Steene robes and squares Ships propellor The grounds current photos »

 

As I write the rain is falling on my Italian penthouse for the first time. I have dreamed about this. Yes I know, I should get out more but rain on roofs is one of my joy triggers. Tommie seems to agree as I can hear him snore in his moving kennel.

The rain makes a softer noise than it did on the tin roof of my Surry Hills childhood home where water smashed above us like a Keith Moon drum solo.

On my walk along the Great Divide, soft thumps touched my bivvy bag early one morning. It was light snow and when I escaped into the warmth of Wallace Hut the local cows tried to join me around the fire. A farmer later assured me that was what they do. All beasts seek a refuge ... or as Bob said: 

I came in from the wilderness a creature void of form "Come in" she said "I'll give you shelter from the storm"

Well I didn't give the cows shelter I can tell you. I shooed them out and lit a guilt free fire. 

I am in a reminiscing frame of mind. Nothing I can do about it. There is a deadline from the publisher of my book for any rewrites or changes to be made as soon as possible. Thus I have been thrust back into my own life over the past week. This time as a reader rather than as the writer.

Remember when you hit the water after a dive and you are suddenly transported into another dimension; different soundscapes, different speed, no fresh air. That is how I have felt all week, swimming though memory, history and emotion and not sure when I'll reach the surface to breathe new air.

Reading my words has the disconcerting feel of performing my own autopsy. Its like an episode of Silent Witness where I am both the young handsome pathologist and the corpse, still strangely attractive despite the missing cranium. Thankfully a bloodless one where any splatter is arranged in neat rows of digital ink and the body of work lies flat on my laptop screen rather than on a slab. The life I lived, even up to this comma, is over. Yep, right up to this moment as each rain drop hits my roof.

One things for bloody sure, I take life way too seriously. I certainly don't wear it like a loose garment. I have been known to talk about genocides on Christmas Day. You should see me at kids birthdays parties. I let the little bastards know that life isn't all candles and birthday cake.

Mind you I have amused myself enormously this week telling stories that take the piss out of myself at my own expense. That's when I wasn't making myself cry with my heartrending accounts of myself.

If I have a saving grace it is that I take other people's lives seriously too. I enjoy their stories, their journeys, trying at least to understand what lines and rigging keep their masts upright or what loose shackles have them cast adrift. Throughout the book Tommie and I unearth those stories as we walk in lonely cemeteries. Dog Walking in a Cemetery was in fact the title until very recently. 

The rain is petering out as sporadically as a dimwit's afterthoughts. If I hadn't eaten a packet of sweets I could drift off to its rhythm rather than having this idea.

With exactly 3 months until the book is released on October 11, and all SWAGGERS will be invited, I will offer the occasional excerpt from the book This is the first of those from the first chapter called LEAVING. It is set in my favorite cemetery and I hope you enjoy it.

 

EXTRACT FROM CHAPTER ONE OF THE ELECTRONIC SWAGMAN

Tom and I pass into neighbouring Newtown, a thriving gay, student and druggie hub. Within its cosmo pulse of cafes and bookstores an older beat attracts us, the Camperdown Cemetery. We discovered this place some years ago and revisit often, always lingering, reading the same gravestones like a favourite mantra, getting to know the inhabitants. We can’t head out of Sydney without dropping in, especially on such a long journey. In any case Tommie needs his daily walk and I a moment just to sit after the madness of leaving.

Lest the departed try and make a break for it, the cemetery lies inside the high sandstone walls of St Stephen’s Church grounds. Over the gate presides a multi-limbed fig more reminiscent of a giant wooden octopus than a tree. The long term residents inside, many of whom arrived with the First Fleet, have watched it grow for over a 150 years.

Tommie loves this place. He dodges through the Gothic maze of tombstones in varying states of decay, sniffs elaborate Italianate scrolls and Celtic crosses all carved in the sandstone of the Sydney region. He searches for food scraps amongst relics, like the forged blade of a ship’s propellor that stands in honour of drowned seamen, or the headstones with a broken stem motif for a dead child. As Aborigines still walked the desert in the traditional way, well before the continent had been crossed, these stern monuments to death and God were crafted in this outpost of the Anglican Church.

We sit under the tree that always attracts us, with its soft shade over an unmarked sandstone block in the quietest part of the cemetery. Tommie is showing his age after chasing real and imaginary adversaries and now pants heavily at my feet. As we are ignorant of what will happen on the long road ahead, so too were the Charlottes, the Edmunds and the Elizas ignorant of their fate. In my imagination the graves are opening as the characters rise up in the fashions of the day. All their dreams and ambitions are restored. Mothers fret for children. Men doff hats to ladies. Young girls are excited by young boys who pretend not to care. My reincarnated friends move through their daily lives again, their hopes flowing along with mine, oblivious to the death that awaits; the time of it, the nature of it and the point of it; making the moment shimmer with life and purpose for the fantasist who sits on a slab with his dog.

I like cemeteries. They are my pathway to an internal world. Better than meditation—I hate the quiet bits. Certainly better than cognitive therapy. Again the quiet bits. Nope, I am at my best amongst the deceased. My mind slows. My body draws downward into the earth as imagined spirits rise up to meet it; life, death, fantasy and reality breaking down into a rich warm compost. A place where dreams are encouraged because life is clearly too short. Where perspective is gained for the same reason. So the journey that lies ahead travels not only above the ground but tunnels beneath it, like a Dreamtime worm, churning up sods of earth into which blood and stories have drained. In any case, I’ve never met a dead person I didn’t like.

In the world of dogs, Tommie is oblivious to any such impressions. He is purely about the present and that is to bound after the stick I hurl towards both the troopy and tonight’s destination, the Blue Mountains.

 

 

Comments
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Penny Auburn
Reply
Ah memories. I know that graveyard well. Have wandered its stones, had my photo taken there, sung and danced in nearby St Stephens Church hall ... last time I visited the cemetery was many years ago, for a dog's funeral. My friend Dale's canine companion Winwood had passed. He was lying in state, surrounded by flowers in a large basket, while we gathered round reciting poems, singing etc. My own Mum had recently died and I wandered off to ponder the impressive stone monument to the many people who drowned when the Dunbar sank in the 1800s. It was all a bit too much and I ended up sobbing on Dale's shoulder ... but usually, like yourself, I'm a bit more relaxed and philosophical in graveyards ...
Raymond
Reply
Thanks Penny. It is an extraordinary place. I researched the Dunbar quite extensively and have written about it. I want to publish it as a separate article or as part of series called Dog Walking in a Cemetery. It seems to me we don't spend enough time with our past. Glad this piece brought back some memories for you. Raymond
Alynn
Reply
My first singing teacher had a small bible from the wreck of the Dunbar. I don't know if her daughter still has it, but I suspect so ... A.
Raymond
Reply
Hey Alynn. The Dunbar was an incredible event. Where they sank is also where people throw themselves when they jump off the Gap. Raymond
Barbara
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Oh joy oh bliss, does that mean you aren't going to be talking about Iraq as we are handing out the Christmas gifts this year? I keep praying for world peace just so you won't have anything to talk about! Loved your blog Ray, and the book excerpt is wonderful.
Raymond
Reply
Yes Barb. You can all relax. I might have a bit of a chat about Afghanistan though. C y Barb
Alana Kelsall
Reply
Thanks Raymond for being in the cemetery and generously giving the dead their time and place. Wonderful writing. I'm also enjoying your blog. It makes me long for home. How brave you are to go as far as you can. I'm inspired and looking forward to your book. All the best to you and Tommie. Alana
Raymond
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Hi Alana. "Giving the dead their time and peace". What a lovely line. Its right to. They are as part of our culture as the morning hours of our day. Wheres home Alana? Raymond
SHANTIMAN DAVIE
Reply
Hey Raymond you say you like cemeteries well so do I its a small gravestone shaped biscuit covered in the dust of a long sleepless night (L.Cohen)whether they are as good as medication sorry meditation I beg to differ. Like your latest blog and the new book looks a winner and I look forward to getting copy with a discount as a old friend, we must go back at least thee weeks. I am just back from USA and was singing your praises in a bar on Highway One Big Sur just before the pool cue put my lights out. Might have been something that I said. Anyway keep up the very entertaining writing. I will send you a more detailed report on my visit to the crazy land sorry USA.
Raymond
Reply
Always a succour for a Leonard Cohen line. Love to hear about Big Sur. I will have eBooks which means that even Scots can get it. Funny you know. I suddenly got seven American readers. I wonder?
Denise Imwold
Reply
Beautiful writing, Raymond. I look forward to the book!
Raymond
Reply
Hey Denise. Thank you. It has been an interesting exercise but somehow the editing of it is more exhausting than the writing which was quite a treat. Luckily the publishers can speak English properly. Hope you are well. Raymond
Liz Boulton
Reply
wow, great writing, I actually liked the blog post too, bit about rain and lines like these: 'Remember when you hit the water after a dive and you are suddenly transported into another dimension; different soundscapes, different speed, no fresh air. That is how I have felt all week, swimming though memory, history and emotion and not sure when I'll reach the surface to breathe new air.' and 'Reading my words has the disconcerting feel of performing my own autopsy'. Brilliant, real, etc, well done...that is really connecting with the inner self and giving 'it' a voice...
Raymond
Reply
Hey Liz. I had not realized that but the metaphor was strong enough for me to feel myself in the water as I imagined it. Then when I come to think about it I did spend an inordinate amount of time underwater, spinning & twisting. Thanks for your comment Liz. Raymond
Anne
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Hey Swaggie - Thanks for the plug for the Soiree and for the extract from your book. It is truly beautiful and a great idea to give the Swaggers some teasers. I love your reflective mood - it is wonderfully authentic. Loobs x
Raymond
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Hey Annie .. Thanks for that. There seems to be a consistent theme that people like reflections that are honest and real. You say authentic. I have been careful not to be too raw but am drawn to being so. These responses suggests that people want a true reflection of a life.
Amanda
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Ah...St Stephens cemetary is beautiful. I have visited it many times when living in the inner west, and taken many a beautiful photo there. Love the excerpt from the book. Looking forward to reading more! Amanda (little) Loobs
Raymond
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Thanks Amanda. It is the most peaceful place I think. I hope you can put the 11 October aside. Raymond
Kate
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Dear Raymond, I total agree that a cemetery or other quiet spot is much more effective at slowing the mind. Yoga and meditation always have me looking at my watch! Have just come back from Greece where meditative spots abound and exactly as you say, "imagined spirits rise up to meet you". Thanks for the excerpt and the time you rake to maintain your blog. It is a delight to read. Always.
Raymond
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Hi Kate. Just racing off to lead a walk. Thanks for your comment. Its lovely to hear feedback like that. Raymond
jill taylor
Reply
The photos are my very favourite part How many will be in the finished book? I'm finding your writing so real it's disturbing, but no doubt I'll cope! Where will the book launch take place?
Raymond
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Hey Jil. Thats because I am so disturbing. The book will have about 12 photos I think. Too many and people don't have to imagine anything. Not sure of the location yet. Raymond
Roy Evans
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Raymond, Many thanks for the Desert Choir walk. Was very good for the mind, body & soul. Enjoyed the company of yourself, Ben, Tommie, Tony and fellow walker/singers.Ticked one wannado off the bucket list and added several others. On the way home at Christchurch Airport Duty Free, attempted to by some Noo.. Noosko...Noskopar skin care product (you having been a walking advertorial), however there must have been a run on the 'product', none to be found anywhere. Cheers & Thanks.
Raymond
Reply
Hey Roy. Its very difficult to get over the counter. It was a great trip huh. Hope to see you at Burra. Raymond