Updated: Apr 30, 2021
Her voice is rising, we all hear it. You and I and all the women we know are noticing the irritated rumblings, like a swelling, pushing up, unrelenting from the deep within us. The murmurings are getting louder, the heat and flame burning brighter, fanned by the breath of voices rising up around us.
I’m tuning in too, but the constant din of ‘to do’ lists is loud and constant, and I yearn for a quiet place where I can hear the voice within. Now that our children are grown and don't need me in the same way anymore I can satisfy that yearning. If I could I would do motherhood all over again, but that offer is not on the table. The offer that is in front of me is to go, take a sabbatical, on my own, on a kind of quest, to do what I want to do. To write.
A little over a year ago I had a medical test, a cancer scare. The test was on a Friday and I wouldn’t get results until Monday, so I spent the weekend in a state of concealed panic. I didn't tell anyone and my imagination roamed free through the possibilities, lingering on the idea of a death sentence. By Sunday I’d convinced myself that I was dying. I had only six short months to live. It felt so real in my body that salty tears flowed as I walked the cliffs of South Coogee. Acceptance soon followed, and I asked myself, ’right then, how will you spend your last months on earth, what do you have to do? Before I had even finished the question I heard the answer loud and clear - write!
(the results were negative, by the way)
So, I am at last following Her call and soon I’ll be setting off on a road trip, a boat, then another road trip - a real journey. After two days of travel and decompression I’ll arrive at my dream, South of Hobart - next stop Antarctica. I am leaving Springfield, where we run retreats, to go on my own retreat. There are so many interesting and fun distractions here, and a never-ending 'to do' list for retreats. I love the work of planning and organising our retreats, and I love writing too, but trying do both at the same time can take the joy away. At the end of one of our recent writing retreats Inga Simpson, our facilitator, said, “I don’t see how you can do all of this”, with a wide sweep of her arms, “and expect to finish your book?” I knew she was right.
I long for the time and space to sink deeply into that beautiful place that writing comes from, and to stay there for as long as I can hold the thread. When walking with my writerly friend last week she said, writing a book is like giving birth. So, after a constantly interrupted gestation period, enduring too many funerals, moving in or out of five houses, and starting a business here at Springfield, I am now ready to get this baby out.
The house I’m staying in belongs to a writer who rents it to writers and artists who need what I need - time and space to be alone, to tune in, listen deeply, see clearly and then write what is found.
What is life like on one's own, I’ve often wondered, in daydreams. Since leaving my family home I’ve never been without a partner - always in relationships, sometimes overlapping. Will two months stretch out before me like eternity, or will it crunch in and slip by, as if gone before it even starts. Will I be sad and lonely? Will I want to write? Will I love my writing cocoon as much as I hope to? Will it seem like I’ve only just arrived by the time I exhale icy-white breath when packing the car to head home again? Will I leave with a manuscript under my arm?
Ironically, we offer a Writer’s in Residence program here at Springfield, and in fact there will be four more writers staying here while I am away in Tasmania. Since we started last year the Stella nominated authors who have participated in the program include Joyce Morgan, Fiona Wright, Yumna Kassad, Emily Maguire, Gabrielle Cary, Margo Lanaghan and Bri Lee. We have plans for a further nine writers to stay ‘In Residence’ this year.
During her stay I sat with Yumna on a bench under a tree, and she spoke quietly about her expectations, “Going away to write without distraction is a kind of mystery, the results of which may not be visible immediately, or for many years. You just never know the impact of such an experience.”
My editor has suggested I journal about my cocooning experience, perhaps there’s a book in that too, we laughed. I confess now that I am going to Tasmania with expectations and schedules and plans for discipline, rigour and results, but I’m also aware that I’m heading into the unknown, and that makes my heart flutter.