Rosemary Nissen-Wade: Aussie poet and teacher of metaphysics – a personal view
My bestie nicknamed me SnakyPoet on her blog, and I liked it. (It began as
'the poet of the serpentine Northern Rivers' and became more and more abbreviated.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Do You Title a Poem?

Brian Miller, over at dVerse Poets Pub, raised this question, which led to an interesting discussion. This is my take on it:

For me titles are among the most difficult pieces of writing. I usually find them last – except when prompts from some sources suggest them at the outset.

I used to leave some pieces untitled if nothing suitable occurred to me, but then John Hewitt at PoeWar Writer's Resource Center insisted poems should always be titled, to help oneself and more importantly the reader identify, recall and locate them. He said, if all else fails use the first line as title. So now I do, and agree it’s preferable to having numerous pieces called ‘Untitled’. Sometimes, using half the first line is effective.

I have found that very general titles don’t work well. It’s not much use calling something ‘Autumn’ or ‘Bird’; it doesn’t identify the particular poem sufficiently. Even Keats said ‘Ode to Autumn’. I was guilty of a lot of very general titles when younger. If you’re prolific like me, you can find yourself using the same general title several times over for different pieces; not a great idea. (Also, such vague titles are pretty boring, aren't they?)

I agree with those who say that you don’t want to give away the whole poem in the title.

What do you think, dear readers?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Magician — Autobiography excerpt

In 1981 I ran poetry workshops in Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, on behalf of the Poets Union, at the request of prisoner poets. We put together an anthology, with editorial decisions shared among all participants. One prisoner in the workshop was transferred to Geelong Prison. This was before emails; the only way I could get his input without delay was to go and see him. There were poetry workshops in Geelong Prison too. I contacted the guy running them and got permission from him and the Prison to attend one.

Afterwards I had time to spare before my train back to Melbourne. I went into a café near the station and there, sitting at a table, was an old neighbour I hadn't seen for nine years. Reg and his wife had lived a few doors down from Bill and me when we all had young children. Norma and I used to babysit for each other, and we used to attend each other's barbecues and parties. Then we all moved and lost touch.

Still shaking off the prison atmosphere, I hesitated, then went over and said hello. He invited me to sit down. He was there a few days for work, but it turned out he now lived quite close to Bill and me again. He and Norma had divorced and she'd remarried. 

The business he'd had went broke. His partner, in charge of the finances, had been raking off investors' money. He eventually absconded, leaving Reg to face fraud charges. No-one believed he hadn't been in on it, though he was fighting poverty by then. He defended himself because he couldn't afford a lawyer, and succeeded in getting all but one charge dropped. For that one, he did 15 months in gaol. He was determined to clear his name of that too, but meanwhile he needed to try and earn a living. It was hard to get work at his age, after a gap that was difficult to explain. He finally landed a sales rep job. Norma stuck by him while he was inside, but the stress contributed to the breakdown of their marriage soon after he got out.

He confided that his life had undergone huge changes since then. He'd been studying Hermetic magic in some books he'd come across, and began practising it in a big way. He told me that as a child he'd been clairvoyant, but later put it aside to concentrate on things like work and family — and also because people either ridiculed it or got scared of it. I was fascinated of course. (At that time my own psychic abilities were still suppressed, for similar reasons.) I told him what I was doing in Geelong, and asked if he'd picked up anything about that. He said, 'I could tell that you'd come from somewhere very sad.' 

Apart from mentioning the encounter to Bill that night as a matter of interest, I thought no more about it. Then he dropped in at our place one day when, he said, he was passing, and we made him a cuppa and had a bit of a catch up.

He was unemployed. The sales rep job hadn't worked out. For the next few years he kept landing similar jobs and losing them again. In his sixties by then, he was dyeing his hair and lying about his age. 

He took to dropping round a lot. He was lonely. If Bill was home, they talked about blokey stuff. That was before Bill's great awakening. He was still sceptical about anything extrasensory. But if it was just me, Reg spoke freely about his occult interests. We had long conversations over coffee at my kitchen table. He taught me a lot about metaphysical matters. It just seemed that we were yarning. It was only later I realised what an education he gave me.

Then I began having strange experiences — dreams which seemed significant, unexplained sounds and smells, and a spooky sense of unseen people being present. It started happening quite suddenly, and a lot. And I had a clairvoyant visiting me! One day, unable to keep it to myself any longer, I blurted out, 'Reg, who came to see me last night?' 

He reached across the table and said, 'Give us your hand.' He closed his eyes and started telling me what he was getting, until I realised he was describing my dear Nana, who died when I was four. 'What does she want?' I asked. He shut his eyes again with a questioning look on his face, then said, 'Just saying hello.'

Over the next weeks he was able to identify other nightly visitors as people in my life who had died; my stepfather, for instance. He had no way of knowing anything about these people, but described them so accurately that I had no trouble recognising them — even demonstrating my stepfather's funny walk.  

I didn't understand why I was getting all these visitations from dead people, but Reg said that when he dropped in the first time, his guides had told him to come and see me. He thought the Powers That Be must want me to become aware of other realities for some reason, but he didn't know what the reason could be. Then one of the poets in prison, whom I'd grown very close to, committed suicide. I thought the guys I met were so nice, they couldn't have done anything serious. But he was serving a long sentence and he'd just been told it would not be reduced. He was 24.

I was only his tutor. I found out, like most people, by opening the newspaper one Saturday morning as I sat down with my coffee. Not only grief but shock. But by then I had plenty of indication that the soul does live on after death. I simply couldn't doubt it. Now all the stuff that had been happening made sense. The tragic waste of a life would have been even more devastating if I'd believed there was only this life. I felt the Universe was looking after me by giving me so much evidence otherwise, protecting me from complete despair. It was then that I acquired the concept of a benevolent Universe that would always take care of me.

As for magic, I once witnessed Reg call down fire by an effort of will. There was a document I wanted to burn, but it was on thick card and wouldn't catch alight. Reg took it from me, held it over the sink, and exerted visible effort. His face screwed up and his shoulder muscles tightened. Suddenly the thing burst into flame, he dropped it into the sink and it burned fast. I was standing right next to him; there was no trickery. 

He tried to help us through some financial difficulties. 'Get Bill to take out a Tattslotto ticket with these numbers,' he  said. But Bill, sceptical, and agreeing only to humour me, got sidetracked and didn't put the ticket on. When the winning numbers were announced, he was so cross with himself that he swore and kicked his desk, which was the nearest object. Reg was disgusted. 'Do you know what it takes for the Guys Upstairs to orchestrate something like that?' he asked me. He never repeated the attempt.

He predicted that Azaria Chamberlain's matinee jacket would be found and her parents cleared of murder, years before it happened. And he told me I would study some kind of Oriental discipline that would change my life. He couldn't quite get the name of it, but said he could see the letters e and i, and another that might be h or k. I know now: Reiki. And he saw me moving to a tropical climate: lots of palm trees. I’ve been in the sub-tropics two decades now, and every house I’ve lived in here has had palms. Reg didn't live long enough to see any of these predictions come true.

He used to put his hands on our old dog, claiming that she wasn't well and he was healing her. We didn't see any symptoms, but I now believe he prolonged her life many months. It was only after he died that she succumbed to a blood disease which the vet said she'd apparently had a long time, which usually proved fatal in a much shorter period.  

Reg died of cancer in 1984. He was ready to go. Despite the magic, his last years were sad, with the loss of family life, working life and much of his self-respect. He never fulfilled his ambition to clear his name of the charge on which he was convicted. 

When I do psychic readings, it feels natural to hold the client's hand and shut my eyes, as Reg did. And it was he who communicated with Bill after death, somehow causing Bill to become a psychic and a healer overnight, as if passing on his own gifts as a goodbye present.

Note:  This post is part of my magickal memoirs, which may be found in full at their own blog.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Learning Reiki I — Autobiography excerpt

Note: Reiki I is the first level of Reiki training, the basic method of hands-on healing.

In 1984 I had a reading from a famous clairvoyant called Mario Schoenmaker. Mario believed in reincarnation. He described a scenario in which, in my last life, I tried to help some dying people. 

'So in this life,' he added, almost casually, 'If you wanted to, you could heal with your hands,'

That wasn't a thing I had any idea of taking up. I already had my vocation: I was a poet.

Some years later, in a personal development course, I got chatting to the woman sitting next to me.

'You seem a bit tense,' she said. 'I think I can help you. I'm a massage therapist. Let me give you my card.'

It seemed like a great idea, and I became a customer. I didn't make regular appointments, just rang her up whenever I felt especially tense, weeks or sometimes months apart. I'd never had a massage before. I found it blissful, and very relaxing. I was a busy mother of young children, and working part-time. It was about the only 'me time' I had. I usually dozed off.

One day she said, 

'I've just learned this new thing called Reiki. It's not a vigorous massage. It's more like a gentle laying on of hands. Do you mind if I try it on you?' As far as I was concerned, she could try anything on me. She was good!

I blissed out as usual and didn't really notice what technique she was using. It felt great; that's all that registered. 

Some months later she said,

'I've just learnt Reiki II, the advanced course. Is it OK if I try that on you?'

'Sure,' I said, and once again registered little of the actual treatment, only how wonderful I felt afterwards. It had such an effect that I never again felt so tense that I needed to consult her. However, because I wasn't going on a regular basis, I didn't notice that until much later. Anyway, that's how I came to believe that Reiki was a type of massage. I now know it works very well in conjunction with massage and many other therapies, so practitioners of various kinds add it to their qualifications. 

Abalone diving is a young man's game. Bill retired and we moved to the country east of Melbourne, to a tiny place called Three Bridges, near Yarra Junction and Warburton. That was where we were living when I saw Beth Gray's Reiki seminars advertised. I got a huge, irrational hit: 'That's for you!' It was easy to then rationalise it: it was just after I started wishing for something Bill and I could both learn to help him with his spiritual healing gifts. 

Bill wasn't hard to persuade. I think he must have been tired of feeling drained after doing healings, and the thought of me being able to give him a nice massage afterwards was enticing. Also he had recently managed to put my back out while attempting to relieve an ache. A friend who did massage had to make an urgent visit to put it right. The idea of getting some actual training must have started to seem good too. 

The time and money for us to do the course became available with almost miraculous ease. 'It's as if the Universe opened up for us,' I said.

Beth Gray was an American Reiki Master who visited Australia twice a year to teach in all the capital cities and some large country centres. (There were no Australian Reiki Masters then, though Beth was in the process of training some.) Our course was in Melbourne, over a weekend. There was a free introductory session on the Friday night, for people to find out about Reiki and see if they wanted to do it. We didn't see why we needed to drive all the way from Three Bridges for that. We were already enrolled in the course, and we knew what Reiki was - a form of massage, right? 

So we turned up on the Saturday morning, and found ourselves in a room of about 60 students and maybe 10 assistants. Beth was short, vibrant and glamorous, with beautifully coiffed grey hair, a stylish suit and scarf, high heels, bright lipstick, and long red nails. I found out later she was nearly 70. She looked 50. 

She asked a few of us to share why we wanted to learn Reiki, and then asked some of the assistants to tell us what Reiki had done for them. We heard of healings that sounded like miracles. Then she led us in a meditation. That was cool; Bill and I had done meditation before. We still didn't really understand what we were getting into.

Then we had to stay in our quiet, meditative state while the assistants ushered us, 10 at a time, to a small room to receive what Beth called a 'fine tuning'. Each group would be gone a little while, then they'd come back into the main room. Meanwhile the assistants rearranged their empty seats to form long rows, one chair behind another, where people were directed to sit when they returned.

As instructed, I was still in a meditative state as I lined up outside the little room for the fine tuning. When we went in, we sat on chairs side by side in front of Beth. She instructed us to keep our eyes closed until told to open them. She said we would feel her doing things to our heads and our hands, but on no account to open our eyes. The procedure, she told us, was sacred and secret.

She wore a little bracelet of bells which tinkled softly as she moved. She told us later that she got it in the Philippines where, before she knew about Reiki, she trained with the spiritual healers. She said she wore it as a reminder to stay humble, knowing that she was not really the healer but merely a channel, a pipeline for the healing energy. It was nice to hear the little bells as Beth moved along the line. There was something sweet and reassuring in the sound. I'm sure all Reiki Masters who ever had a fine tuning from Beth dreamed of one day wearing just such a bracelet when working with their own students. I for one never found my bracelet.

At one point, I felt her stop in front of me, then she took my hands in hers. I was so startled that my eyes flew open involuntarily, and I found myself staring into the face, not of Beth but her chief assistant, Denise Crundall, whom she was training as a Reiki Master. Denise and I stared at each other wordlessly a moment, then I recollected myself and shut my eyes again. 

When we went back into the main room and sat one behind the other, we were shown how to put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us. We must leave them in place, we were told. If it became uncomfortable because our muscles weren't used to the position, we must 'push through' the discomfort.

Then I got the shock of my life, in more ways than one. My hands suddenly felt as though little electric currents were running through them. 'Oh,' I thought, 'This is something other than massage.' Later I came to know this phenomenon as the hands 'switching on'. Reiki is activated by touch I guess if we'd attended the Friday night talk that would have been made clear. I expect it would have been explained as scientifically as possible. But ever since that startling experience, I have privately felt that Reiki is magic.

After a while I noticed that Bill's hands on my shoulders felt warm and soothing. When everyone was back in the room, sitting in their 'Reiki trains', as these lines of people with hands on shoulders were called, Beth started going up and down the lines, feeling everyone's hands and asking us all the same two questions: 'How do your hands feel?' and, 'How do the hands on your shoulders feel?' We learned that different people perceive the energy in different ways. It has something to do with one's own individual energy, and something to do with how much need of healing there is in the body under the hands.

Over the weekend we received three more fine turnings. Beth explained that the energy is passed on in 25% increments because 100% all at once would be too much to cope with. We got lots of practice working on each other on Reiki tables (which are similar to massage tables) and experiencing at first hand our aches, pains, tiredness etc. leaving us. An even greater thrill was being able to do that for others, as they reported in wonderment.

After presenting our certificates, Beth told us she would be back in six months to teach Reiki II, the technique for healing 'in absence'. With that, we'd be able to give Reiki to anyone in the world, without having to be with them in person. More magic! I could hardly wait.

Note:  This post is part of my magickal memoirs, which may be found in full at their own blog.

Monday, June 17, 2013


The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will SomersThe Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Goodreads review:

I was unaware of this author until I came across this book. Now I want to find everything else she ever wrote! I've always been interested in the Tudors and have read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction; also watched the recent TV series and various movies from the Charles Laughton one on.

This book seems to me a particularly fair account, and probably as accurate as fiction can get — so far as we can tell from this distance — though it does of course include imagined scenarios of things we can never know in detail. The premise is that, after Henry's death, his fool, Will Somers, comes across a personal diary that Henry kept for many years. About to die himself years later, during the reign of Elizabeth, Will sends this document to Henry's daughter (Catherine) by Mary Boleyn, who was his mistress before he fell in love with and married her younger sister Anne. Will has made his own notes in the diary from time to time, as commentary on what Henry has written. This device enables the author to update her readers about things Henry could not have known or would not have thought.

It's a good device, and a refreshing change to see the story through Henry's eyes — though we also see how he deceives and justifies himself. It's a huge story. The paperback is 932 pages. I found every one of them fascinating.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Writer's Journal: Points of note about yesterday

1) I wrote a memoir piece about the ending of my marriage to Bill. Later I realised that I wrote it on our wedding anniversary!

2) At the Life Writing group, I started to read my above-mentioned piece on the iPad then realised I'd saved the wrong version, the one from which I had not shaved 200 words to bring it to the length required.

'It's all right,' I said, 'I've got it on my blog.' This involved getting out and switching on my portable modem.

'Would you like to go on to the next person while I get myself set up?' I said.

'No, that's all right,' they assured me. 'We'll wait. We're not putting pressure on you.' They sat back and waited attentively, calm and smiling.

What a delicious relief! How relaxing! I am used to a writing group where time is at a premium, and some people have the concept of 'wasting' it if it is not utilised with great purpose and efficiency. Admittedly, that group is full of serious writers and includes critiquing of people's work, which the Life Writing group is not and does not. Even so — how relaxing! what delicious relief!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Calling it Quits — Autobiography excerpt

When I look back, I see many reasons why Bill and I didn't stay together. Basically we grew apart. We'd been doing that for some time before we noticed. When the boys turned into young men and stopped living with us, it became apparent that parenting was the biggest thing we had in common. Without that, there wasn't much else. 

'What do you want from life?' I asked him, hoping to find some mutual aim and recover our sense of partnership. 'What are your goals and visions?' He answered, but I didn't hear him. 'I'd like to travel around Australia,' he said. Well, we'd already been to Sydney, Adelaide, Townsville, Darwin, Ayers Rock, Kakadu and Broome. Besides, to me a vision was big, like saving the world; a goal meant being a famous writer at least. After we parted, he visited Perth and Brisbane and explored more of coastal Victoria.  He was telling me loud and clear what he wanted all the time; I just wasn't capable of hearing it.

And I broke some unwritten contracts, although I didn't realise that until later. He was supposed to be the writer, and later the psychic and the healer. It was I who went on to careers in all three. 

When we met, he was writing a novel. He didn't know I was a writer too. He knew I was a librarian, and that I'd majored in English Literature at University. He told me with naive enthusiasm that he was drawn to me because I must be good at English. An odd basis for attraction, I think now, but I didn't question it at the time. 

Bill was 15 when his family migrated from Holland. His older brother John had learned English at school; his little brother Robert was young enough to pick it up easily here.  Bill missed out both ways. Maths was the only lesson he could understand at his Australian school. He taught himself English by attending movie matinees and watching the same cowboy film over and over. Surprisingly, he fell in love with the language. By the time I met him, his reading was quite sophisticated. His writing, though, had problems. The first letter I ever got from him was a huge disappointment. I couldn't read it! Finally I figured out that he was spelling everything the way it would have been spelt in Dutch if it had sounded the same. Once I had that clue, I managed to decipher it, but it took a long time for only two pages. I could see that he did need help.

He loved English because of its nuances, its subtleties, its fine shades of meaning, the fact that so many different words could be used for one thing. In Dutch, he told me, language is blunt and simple — one word, one meaning. Bill's father loathed English for exactly the same reason. 'You know where you are with Dutch,' he said.

Bill's written English improved considerably, but he put the novel aside for the responsibilities of providing for his family. If he'd stayed a carpenter, perhaps he would have written in the evenings; but abalone diving is one of the most physically demanding jobs there is. He rose early and went to bed early, and there was no guarantee of a weekend off. If the weather was right, you dived. You might not get another chance for a while. His father was a builder. When it wasn't diving weather, Bill worked for him. It kept us fed but didn't leave much time for writing. Luckily, abalone diving became his even greater passion. He loved the life. His story-telling impulse was satisfied by becoming a raconteur, telling wonderful tales of his experiences under water, which he never wrote down.

I was a poet, a very different matter. It takes a lot less time to write a poem than a novel. When I'm asked how long it takes me to write a poem, I usually say, 'Anything between five minutes and 20 years'. That's more or less true, but at least the first draft can be done quickly. But I was just a private scribbler. It was only when I was 32 that I asked myself, 'OK, you've got a good husband, lovely kids, a nice house, all the things you're supposed to want. Why are you still discontented? What do you really want to do with your life?' 

A light bulb lit up in my head and I knew the answer. It had always been there. I wanted to be a poet. I'd always wanted that. I just hadn't believed it possible. 

When I was little, my parents read me poems for bedtime stories, and bought me books like Now We Are Six and A Child's Garden of Verses. I started writing poems when I was seven. My parents were proud of me, but when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, 'A poet,' they explained as kindly as possible that it wasn't a thing you could 'be' in that kind of way. It would have to be a hobby.

I won some school writing prizes, and in my teens became brave enough to submit to Meanjin, the foremost literary magazine in the country (and the only one I knew about). My work was promptly rejected. I pulled my head back in and resumed scribbling so privately that few people knew. 

Now, at 32, I told myself, 'OK. Time to have a go for real.' Bill was appalled. 

'I've got friends who are artists and musicians,' he said. 'Any art form consumes you. It's a tunnel that'll swallow you up.' 

I argued vociferously. I wouldn't let it do that to me; I'd still look after the family. I wore him down until, grudgingly, he gave permission. (Obviously I had little understanding of feminism back then.)

Doing it 'for real' required much more crafting. Near enough wasn't good enough any more. But it seemed I'd learnt some things in those years of scribbling. I was published quite soon, joined the Poets Union, embraced performance poetry, and made a name. I even got to teach the poetry part of Professional Writing courses at various colleges, on the strength of that name plus my BA.

Bill didn't pick up a pen for another 12 years, until he retired and we moved to the country. I was amazed that his gift was still there, but he seemed to have lost heart. He wrote some good short stories but didn't do much with them.

By that time he'd become psychic overnight, lost it and partly regained it. [As recounted in my previous post.] Meanwhile some friends got me interested in Tarot. I started playing with it just for my own amusement.

At the same time as becoming psychic, in the same lightning-strike way, Bill developed healing gifts — part of the same package. He would get an inner knowing where to put his hands on someone and how to massage them to relieve pain and other symptoms. If he did this too often in a short time, he became drained of energy.  

'Who heals the healer?' I wondered. 

Also I was worried about the legalities. He was working on people without any qualifications. When I saw a Reiki course advertised, I persuaded him we should both do it. I'd experienced Reiki. I didn't know much about it but I thought it was a superior kind of massage. I thought he could get some qualifications to put to his natural gift, and that when he got drained I'd be able to look after him. 

But Reiki isn't like that. It's not massage but energy healing. You tap into the universal energy instead of using your own, so you never get drained. It's activated automatically by touch. 

I had no idea of being a healer myself, except to help him, which now he didn't need. But it was I who fell in love with Reiki and, in a major life change, decided to train as a Master (a teacher). As a start, I began seeing clients professionally. I also decided to advertise Tarot readings. To my surprise I got plenty of clients for both services.

Bill declared, 'I support you 100% in your ambition to become a Reiki Master!'  A few months later he thought the training took too much time and money. 'Unless you give it up,' he said, 'Our marriage is over.' I was rocked. But I was due to go to Sydney, to a conference of trainee Reiki Masters with the world Grand Master on her first visit to Australia. 

'Go,' said the Reiki Master who was training me, 'And then make up your mind.'

I walked into the conference, and into peace and acceptance. There was a large room full of people sitting on cushions on the floor. It was also full of the Reiki energy they all carried. I looked around. There were my brothers and my sisters; I was home. The decision was made. After a profound and beautiful three days, I went back and told Bill the marriage was over.

It was his turn to look shocked. I think I must have called his bluff, and then he didn't know how to back down. But I hadn't realised that he was bluffing. And by then it was too late. 


Note:  This post is part of my magickal memoirs, which may be found in full at their own blog.

A Sudden Awkening —Autobiography excerpt

Bill, the second of my three husbands and the father of my two children, with whom I spent 27 years, was a very physical person. As a boy and a young man, he played a lot of football; soccer in Holland and Aussie Rules after his family migrated to Melbourne. He was a carpenter when I met him, and he ran a scuba diving school as a sideline. 

When our first child was only three months old, the Victorian Government released new abalone diving licences, which until then had been frozen a long time. Bill heard the news on his car radio and went straight into town to apply for one. It was granted — the very first one — and instead of saying, as Bill expected, that he would receive it in the mail in a couple of weeks, the clerk wrote it out on the spot and said, 'That'll be $300.' Knowing there was nothing in the bank, Bill coolly wrote a cheque and then went straight to our bank manager. He told him the story, up to the point of being asked for the money, then looked the bank manager in the eye and said, 'What would you have done?' 

'I guess I'd have written a cheque,' said the bank manager.

'Good!' said Bill. 'That's exactly what I did, so would you please pass it.' He did. And so began Bill's long career as a professional ab diver, which kept him enthralled with his adventurous life, and his family well provided for. 

He loved to be outdoors, and he couldn't sit still for very long without getting restless. He had to be up and doing. He needed activity. But he also loved reading and movies and conversation. When we first got together he was writing a novel. It was shaping up to be a good one, but he never finished it. He did write several excellent short stories later. So he was both physical and thoughtful. He was not, however, very spiritually inclined. As for me, my attitude to the extra-sensory was both fascinated and fearful. I played with Runes and I  read Colin Wilson's massive books on Mysteries and The Occult. I kept an open mind. Bill was simply sceptical. That changed very suddenly some years later. 

We married in 1966. Our children were born in 1967 and 1969. It wasn't until 1985 that Bill had his overnight awakening. He did some personal development work which was not spiritual in nature but opened up his mind to new possibilities in general; then a friend who was very psychic died, and Bill felt that Reg was in touch with him after his death. I expect he was right. Anyway, those are the only things I can see to account even a little bit for what happened next. 

He started knowing ahead of time about global tragedies. He would say, 'There's going to be a plane crash somewhere; I can feel it.' Sure enough, a plane would come down somewhere in the world within hours, every time. This was not a source of joy to him. He said to me, 'I can't stop it happening. I never know where exactly it will be, or what airline. I just see it happening and hear the people screaming. I can feel their fear and pain. It's awful.' He also realised that even if he did have more details, it wouldn't help. Who do you phone to say, 'A plane's going to crash at such and such a place and time'? No-one would believe him; they'd write him off as some nutter. And then, when it did happen, he could come under suspicion for having known about it beforehand.

I think myself, in hindsight, that when people awaken suddenly like that, the Universe gives them evidence they can't possibly ignore, such as global events which they couldn't know of in advance, and which will be sure to get into the news. It's a way for them to realise: 'Hey, this stuff is real. It's not my imagination. I'm not going crazy.' 

He also foresaw smaller and more personal events. He could do predictions for people, and they would turn out to be correct. He never charged money for it, just did it as a favour for friends occasionally. I was fascinated, and also selfish. I would ask him all sorts of questions pertaining to me. How lucky could I be — my very own fortune-teller right in the house! 

I found that a good time to ask those questions was when we were in bed at night, before he fell asleep. I know now that the time between sleep and waking, at either end of the day, is a natural trance state. Back then, I guess it just seemed like a convenient time without the distractions of the day. 

One night, more than half asleep, mumbling answers to my self-centred questions, he suddenly shouted, 'Peacock's gone! He's dead, he's politically dead. Howard's got it. I can see the headlines.' He was quite right of course: Howard did replace Peacock as leader of the Liberal Party, and Peacock's political career was effectively over from then on. But when Bill received this information, it was two weeks before there was even the slightest whisper of it in the press. He really did have the gift. 

He decided he didn't want it. There were three days when he couldn't go to work. He could see a terrible disaster involving hundreds of people. He could hear their cries, and feel their pain, terror and despair. It drained him. He looked grey, and could hardly move from his chair. He didn't know what the event was or where, but he thought it might be an earthquake in Indonesia. We had been to Indonesia a few times, so perhaps that was what he could relate to. I guess he saw brown-skinned people and moving earth. What it turned out to be, four days after he started getting it, was a landslide in Chile.

That was the last straw for him — so debilitating, so distressing, and there was nothing he could do. What good did it serve? In those days we didn't have a clue; no idea about protecting him with white light or anything like that. He prayed for the gift to be taken from him. Well, 'be careful what you pray for.' It stopped immediately, and then he missed it. He didn't miss the distressing side-effects, but he missed the ego trip of being able to make predictions for his friends. So he asked for it to be given back, without the world disasters. Eventually it was, but it was never again so clear and true. It was as if it became tainted. He still often got things right, but just as often some bits would be wrong. 

Instead of it coming through spontaneously, as it had done before, now he would press people to let him read for them and then try to tune in and seek out the answers. Then he would get a mish-mash of useful information and rubbish. He himself could not distinguish which was which. It all seemed very influenced by his wish to impress. He would go for the most dramatic interpretations of whatever he got. He also started doing readings at social gatherings, where he was drinking alcohol. I thought that must interfere with his abilities, but he wasn't about to listen to my notions. In the end, I think he gave up trying. But by then we had parted.


Note:  This post is part of my magickal memoirs, which may be found in full at their own blog.

Creating Illness — Autobiography excerpt

I think that when we are children our brains must be flexible. Then, as we grow older, we lose the ability to mould and manipulate them at will.

New Age gurus tell us all the time that we create our own reality with our thinking, but we look at our intractable environments and circumstances, and we know better. Even when we crave enlightenment and wish to believe, even when we pay lip service, something deep down inside us goes: 'Oh yeah?' as we regard the physical world, which shows no immediate sign of shifting according to our desires. Our bodies seem almost as intractable as the rest of the physical world. We believe we can change them by what we put in them or how much we exercise them, but that's likely to be a long, hard road. 

When I was seven, though, I could create illness on purpose, not by faking it, not by doing something physical like eating green plums or deliberately falling over, but with my mind. I did it only once that I remember, but maybe it happened more often and I just suppressed it. Maybe, really, we are all doing it unconsciously all the time, just as the gurus say.

Hang on, why would people make themselves sick? Who would want to? 

When I was seven, there was a lot to be gained. It could get me off school and bring me lovely, welcome attention. My Mum would go all soft and kind, and she'd run around trying to get me things I wanted and feed me food I liked. It was a good lurk.

I suffered from migraines as a child. It was the most excruciating pain. I would scream with it, and writhe. Mum would phone the doctor at once. They made house calls then. I had to lie in a darkened room with a wet washcloth over my eyes, while everyone tiptoed around me — because at those times I couldn't stand noise; it reverberated through my head. The pain was real; I didn't set out consciously to create it, not as a rule. But I did like the feeling when finally the pain wore itself out and subsided. There was blissful calm then; I was rag doll relaxed.  

So there came this morning when I woke with only a sliver of headache. I don't remember what gave me the idea — perhaps my Mum saying something like, 'Oh, it doesn't seem to be such a bad one today. Maybe you could go to school after all.' I did NOT want to go to school. I was the bookworm, the dreamer, with poor coordination and no puff. I was good at lessons and bad at sport, a recipe for unpopularity. Play times were miserable for me. I was either teased or ostracised. I'd much rather stay home — in my parents' bed, which is where she put me in the daytime if I was sick. It was a big bed, with fat, soft pillows. It felt luxurious. I could snooze and dream, or daydream, and if I felt a little better as the day wore on, I could read. Reading and dreaming (both kinds) were favourite pastimes. Sometimes they would shade into each other. 

I don't know how it occurred to me to try, and I don't even know how to describe the mechanics of it now, but I did a thing with my brain, on purpose, to make the pain worse. I intensified it with my will: not pretending, but really. If I just pretended, I might fool the doctor but I was sure I wouldn't fool my mother. 

All I can say is that I did it with willpower and concentration, and with visualisation. I didn't, of course, know the word 'visualisation' when I was only seven, and not for many years after that, but it's what I did. I made a picture in my mind of the side of my brain — not an anatomically correct picture, but something I imagined. I pictured it sort of shrinking in at that spot, tightening, and then exploding outwards in a blaze of light. This was what migraines felt like to me. Sure enough, by my own efforts I soon had the intense pain and the swirling, psychedelic colours. That's another word none of us knew back then, psychedelic, but the visual effects that accompany migraines are like that — in a dizzying, nauseous, horrible way that fractures your thinking. Impossible to have a coherent thought when you've got that combination of agony and wild, gyrating colours going on in your head. If I concentrated to create the migraine, I certainly couldn't concentrate after I'd got it! (I remember one time when I was older, I got one at school, and when the teacher asked me where I lived I couldn't even focus my thoughts enough to be able to tell her.)

Magick, I learned much later in life, is done with willpower and intention. Visualisation is often involved, too. I suppose it was a kind of magick that I did — even, perhaps, a kind of black magick, as it created pain and served a selfish purpose for me. 

Both my mother and the doctor were completely fooled. Well, why wouldn't they be? I had created a real migraine, a full throttle, no-holds-barred, hum-dinger of a migraine. It was so severe that at first the doctor thought it might be meningitis. There was talk of tests, and of taking me to hospital. I was dimly aware of that conversation, behind my wall of pain. In the end, the young doctor decided to wait and come back in the evening to see if the pain had subsided at all.

I can still remember that young doctor, with his very black hair, his long nose and his navy blue suit. I didn't like him, for the excellent reason that he was not dear old Dr MacDonald, whom I loved. Dr Mac had a crinkled face, kind, rheumy eyes, and wore an old brown jacket with leather patches at the elbows. His voice was gentle and he thought I was a dear little girl. He was almost like family. But he was busy and old, and so he'd taken a second doctor into the practice.

Dr Turnbull had a brisk, business-like voice and manner. He sounded a trifle nasal. My parents thought he was excellent, and very kind, but I compared him with Dr Mac and could see no good in him. We judge differently at seven.

Later he went into politics. His full name, Wikipedia tells me now, was Reginald John David Turnbull, but he was always known by his nickname of Spot. Did it refer to some mark on his face? I used to think so, but I'm not sure now. Between 1946 and 1974, he served first in the Tasmanian House of Assembly, and then as a Federal Senator. He started with Labour and became an Independent. He also served as Mayor of Launceston from 1964 to 1965. He was born in 1908 and died in 2006.

I can remember my Dad calling him 'Spot'. He became a friend of my Dad's, though not a close mate. He sometimes came to my parents' parties. Older then, I realised that he was in fact a nice, kind man. But I wasn't impressed at seven.

He was mightily impressed with me. I did such a good job with my self-created migraine that he really did fear it might be meningitis. I think it was only Mum telling him that I was prone to migraines which made him wait to be certain. It's a dangerous condition. I think nowadays a child would be rushed to hospital straight away, no messing about. But it was not of course meningitis, and that was evident when he came back that night to check on me. 

I gave myself a fright at how convincing I'd been. It's one thing to create a condition in your body, another to keep control of it afterwards. For all I knew, I might indeed have produced meningitis. Not that I had ever heard of that before, but I knew from the adults' hushed voices and grave expressions that it was a very serious thing. And it might mean going to hospital! No thanks. Staying home and being pampered for a day was good; going off to hospital to be looked after by nurses I didn't even know instead of my Mum, that held no appeal.

Did I try to scale down my symptoms? I don't know. It seems likely, but I only remember creating the condition, not modifying it later. I never did it again, not consciously. The successful exercise of power is a scary thing.


Note:  This post is part of my magickal memoirs, which may be found in full at their own blog.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Writer's Journal: Making Public

A post from my Personal Journal (which is a private blog). It seems relevant here too.

I re-read some posts here [Personal Journal] which, at the time of writing, felt private, and I realise there is no need to keep them secret. I shift them to my Widowhood Chronicles.

It's good to write them at first as private, though — I'm more inclined to let it all hang out when I do that, and I note that this makes for better writing.

They could, of course, stay private. It's up to me.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Goodreads review:

This is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read - which might sound as if the language is self-consciously flowery, but not at all. It's simply right, perfect. And the story enthrals. The characters are among the realest I've ever come across. And yet it's not a predictable book, which is another plus for me. I hate being able to second-guess a plot, as I so often can. It's a huge best-seller, so its literary brilliance is obviously not at odds with popular appeal.

I won't recount the story, as many other reviewers on Goodreads have already done so. I'll just say — if you only ever read one more book, make this the one.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Writer's Journal (exercise): Gobble Light

Exercise from U3A group


I was so hungry, I thought I could gobble the light that came bursting through the trees, piercing the darkness. I felt as if I could chase it through the maze and finally swallow it whole. It was like a golden ball, that I thought would slide down my throat and warm me from the inside. What deception we inflict on ourselves! I must have been delirious, after so many days wandering there, lost, cold and starving.  

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Writer's Journal: Life Writing Group

I love this group!

It meets at Kingscliff Library, under the auspices of U3A (University of the Third Age in case anyone doesn't know, which gives oldies — er, senior citizens — the opportunity to get together and learn or teach all manner of subjects).

There are about 17 people in the group, I'm told, but usually only about 8 turn up, which is a nice number for a group. Each week we are given a letter of the alphabet (not in consecutive order) with examples of what it might stand for, and we choose a topic beginning with that letter to write on for the following week. We are allowed up to 1500 words.

We don't make copies; we just listen well as each person reads out what they've written. We are encouraged to bring photos too, if relevant. I haven't so far, but I probably will at some point.

After each piece is read out, we have a little discussion of it. We can ask for feedback, but so far I'm the only one who has. The first time I read, they praised my writing. I said, 'So it held the interest?' and they all assured me it did. That was it — and it was all that I needed. Mind you, today was only my second time there, but I have the feeling that what I've seen is typical. Except for me, the people in this group don't see themselves as writers; they just want to write their life stories for their families. Nevertheless they all write very well.

People turn up a little earlier than the starting time, or sometimes a little later. We have a bit of chit-chat as people arrive, of the 'Hello, how are you, what have you been up to?' kind. Then the group leader says, 'I think everyone who's coming is here. Shall we start?' Immediately everyone happily stops their conversations, and we go around the room taking it in turns to read. The leader picks who will start and in what direction we'll go around. It's all very polite and gentle.

The discussion of each piece consists of how it makes us feel — 'That sounds lovely', 'What an amazing experience' and so on — and what someone I know calls 'self-referential' — 'When I was there ...', 'Oh, my brother-in-law's family came from that area', 'That reminds me of ...'

No-one keeps time or asks us to please move along. The discussion is relaxed, and finds its natural end, then the next person begins to read. This doesn't steal time from other activities; we meet for two hours, and today we finished ten minutes early.

After we've all read and each piece has been discussed, we have a writing exercise. A box is passed around, containing words on slips of paper. We each take one, then we read them out. The exercise is to write a piece containing all the words, and if possible have it make some kind of sense. Then we all read out in turn what we've written. It raises laughter and admiration. Today our lone man set himself an extra challenge: to use the words in alphabetical order. He did a very good job of it!

They're nice people, down to earth and friendly. My memoir now has the working title, A Psychic Life. Last week I wrote about giving myself a migraine by an effort of will when I was a litte girl. This week I wrote about about my second husband Bill's very sudden and dramatic psychic awakening when he was 49. Everyone is very accepting of this way-out stuff. They are interested and ask intelligent questions. No-one's judgmental; they take it at face value that the experiences I recount are real, even if unusual. They are equally interested in all the other material that people bring and share. I'm just one of the mob.

I love this group!