Friday, May 28, 2010

A wave of isolation...

Joe and I had to spend a lot of time alone together before his operation.  After all the trips to Melbourne I've started  wondering about whether a valley 60kms  out of Albury Wodonga is the right place for us, and I've been having fantasies about saving up for a two bedroom mc-apartment in the big smoke.  I'd get more work and inspiration, Joe would have play mates just around the corner...the land of culture, cool-craft, cocktails and coffees beckons.

Isolation has been a key element in the many lives I've led.  Alienation, a sense of separateness, and the need for solitary space are often quoted as pre-requisites for living as a writer. It doesn't really lessen the sneaking sense of betrayal in the writing process, but it's great for perspective and focus. My whole life has been a sequence of journeys, punctuated by repeated returns to isolated places.

Last Wednesday I drove 50 km to a writer's evening at the Laurel Hotel in Mitta Mitta.  I'd never heard of the author, it was a mad rush to get there by 7.00 pm,  and the narrow and winding highway was peppered with potentially lethal wombats.  I took along an Austrian friend who has been in the area for a number of years, and who also wonders how choices in her life have lead her to a place  so untainted by cosmopolitan influences.  We arrived 5 minutes early, to find that Ber Carroll and her minder from the mobile library were the only customers in the joint.  A fire was burning in the dining room, the bar was selling drinks.  We got down to talking.  Three other people arrived.

The questions Ber asked were as interesting as the stories around her life and work.  She reminded me of the importance of staying open and listening - being simultaneously alert to the stories inside us that clamour to be told, and to the stories that flow around us, wherever we are.  Mitta Mitta and its people came alive in the scraps and anecdotes we offered up to her. Various writing projects were discussed, and became more real for the discussion.

I talked about my habit of trying to escape the valley. My last attempt involved a doing a runner to a cattle station 500km north east of Alice Springs.
"That's not an escape," said Ber.  
Up to that moment, I'd never really seen the joke in my great escape from a lonely cottage on a hill in North East Victoria to a 5,00o square km property 500km out of Alice Springs.  Ber had left a small town in Ireland and landed in the great glamour and clamour of Sydney, so perhaps escape for her meant a leap away from isolation.

My escape into the "nothingness" of the outback turned out to be a trip into the heart of many matters - personal, cultural, geographical, historical and mythological.  Today, I made my start at this story, in novel form, as seen through the eyes of a seven year old cowboy.   Joe's in kinder today, so I set up my laptop in the back room at the Mitta Mitta Store.  The owner got talking to me, made a quick phone call, and now I find myself welcomed at Mitta Mitta Primary School.  As I writing this I'm sitting in the Withdrawal Room (!) at one side of the big old schoolroom,  fibre-optically connected to the superhighway and surrounded by the background babble of kids at work. Research just got a whole lot easier, and the wave of isolation seems to have washed me up on a brand new shore.

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