Well, it was nice to get out of the attic and roam around Tassie for a while: we hauled backpacks through Cradle Mountain National Park, then visited the sights in and around Hobart. My family then left and I spent six days alone in the northeast of Tassie, writing.
I feel rejuvenated — spending time in the wilderness does that for me. It’s physically tiring, but my mind craves it. For me, nature replenishes in a way nothing else can — craggy mountains, untouched rainforest, wildflowers, still lakes, even the brisk cold is revitalising. It has a way of clearing my head, bringing me back down to earth but also uplifting me, freshening me when I’m stale.
I live in a suburb of Perth near both coast and bushland. I walk everyday, through the bushland and up over the sand dune to the beach. Everyday, I smell the peppermint gums and see the blue of the ocean, and it helps top me up. But it was re-energising to visit Tassie and walk in true wilderness on the mountains again.
While I was away, I finished the second draft of my novel. I stayed in a little cottage at Branxholm, a picturesque town in the northeast.
The cottages were perfect for writing — set next to a paddock with llamas and beyond that, the river. I could hear the llamas honking and the rapids of the river as I worked. I wrote outside during the day, with the birds and the llamas for company, and walked by the river — actually, I limped as I’d hurt my foot on the Cradle Mountain trek — amidst manferns and rainforest, and absorbed the sights and smells and sounds.
The funny thing was, everything was just how I remembered it from childhood. For example, in my novel I’d already described the river as across a paddock, through a line of trees, and then down over the rocks. And that’s exactly how it was …
I was alone at the cottage. Completely. For the first time I ever remember. I’d been away without my family before, but to conferences with other people. This was totally solo. It felt weird and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t lonely. I thought I’d love the solitude and had been looking forward to it, but it felt strange to not have my day dictated by kids’ schedules, to have no noise to distract, no mess or clutter to clear, no cooking or washing for six …
What’s more, I couldn’t shake the feeling of emptiness at not having my family with me. As soon as I dropped them off at the airport, I felt desolate. The drive up north was the loneliest drive I’ve ever undertaken. My heart felt heavy indeed.
Yet it was good for writing — I got more done in six days than I could do in six weeks at home. And I had space, the mental space that only solitude provides. I decided that I want my cake and eat it, too: I want my family around me, but I want them to leave me alone and give me space when I want to write. (Did you hear that, kids?)
There were things I’d forgotten from when I lived in Tasmania — like how green it is. I took mental snapshots on the journey up, marvelling at how many shades of green there can be in one vista. By the time I left, I’d already grown used to it. The green no longer seemed so vibrant. That’s what happens, I guess — you get used to something and stop noticing.
Apart from the loneliness, returning to Tassie always evokes mixed feelings for me. I wanted to feel like I’d come home, like I was back in a nurturing bosom, amongst the familiar. I wanted to feel a longing for it, a love for it again, like this was still part of me, still in my soul. Instead, I think I love Tasmania in the way you love a cranky old relative — you miss them, but as soon as you see them again, you’re reminded of why you live apart.
Going back always brings back memories, good and bad. Even the good ones now bring with them a sense of loss for the happy times that can’t ever be again. Everywhere I drove or walked was so familiar that I felt as if I’d walked it before, but this time I was alone. I missed the people who were with me in the past but are no longer with me now — especially my father. When I saw the river, I knew he would have been the first one in for a swim, and as I walked its windy route, I could picture him with his line in, hooking a trout.
There was a sense of loss for the past that has gone and can never return, and at times that became quite overwhelming …
But there was also a sense of distance from the place, too. I used to feel like Tassie was part of me, and whenever I returned or saw photos of it, I felt a sense of longing and yearning. I didn’t get that this time. I’ve moved on, I have a new home. I didn’t feel the longing for it in the way I used to, and that made me sad, too. That I no longer felt that way about my birth state.
I will go back — I want to go back in winter, when the sky is clear but the air is so cold you can see your breath. When the grass is white and everything is crisp with frost. When the mist doesn’t lift the whole day and all you can see is thick, white fog. I want to feel it again, even with the memories.
Love this post! I related so much to your experience of being entirely on your own to write – the loneliness and the uncomfortable value of that to the writing itself. And the feeling of revisiting a place of childhood. After your description I am determined to go (back) to Tasmania too. I’ve only seen Launceston (which is beautiful) but now am ready to see the rest. Thanks for sharing.
I agree, Iris. There were so many feelings tumbling around in my head, stirred up by the solitude and the returning to somewhere from childhood. I’m sure it all helped the writing …
Oh, what an absolutely beautiful, writerly and true piece, Louise. I was there in the solitude you write about. So evocative. I’m going to do six weeks in India to try and finish my novel, for pretty much the same reasons except I don’t think it’ll be that quiet! Good luck and I’m sure you novel will be lighter to live with from now on. Mine’s at the heavy stage and I feel the weight of it on my bones.
It’s still feels weighty, Rashida. Just because I want to make it the best I possibly can. And because I’ve read a couple of really good novels lately that make my book seem … amateur is probably the best word!
Going to India to write — good on you! I’m sure it will all add to the richness of your writing — which is rich already, I must say. I hope you return with less metaphorical weight on your bones!
Beautiful writing here, Louise. I think there’s a short story in this experience.
I’m sure there is, Emily! It’s just getting the time to write it, and then my short stories often end up wanting to become longer and larger pieces …
What a wonderful, and brave, thing to do, Louise. Leaving family for even six days can be a wrench. But I fully understand how wonderful solitude is for a writer. I miss that more than I can say now that I no longer have my own space (apart from a perfectly adequate study) in which to write. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Yes, even having another adult in the house is distracting, isn’t it? I’ve thought about hiring a studio in which to write, where I know when I enter it, it’s work time. It’s very hard to shut off from those around you.
I hate it when I go away for work and that is generally 3 to 4 days. Then my days are filled with people, so I’m not alone though my nights are by my self. I cannot imagine being by my lonesome for so long, and I’m not even a talker, just the presence of people is all I need. You are very brave and maybe you might think about a sound proof room with of course a view. xxx Rae
The presence of others is the critical factor, Rae. No need for chit-chat; just knowing they’re there is enough. A sound-proof room with view — and lock — is tempting!
Terrific post, Louise. And what an experience, six days alone, six days of solitude with only your writing and memories for company. Scary! You do speak for all writers when describing that dichotomy within yourself, the conflict between the wanting to be alone yet when alone — wanting the companionship of loved ones.xx
Thanks, Marlish, for expressing my thoughts so succinctly — that’s exactly how it is: a conflicting dichotomy. Wanting my family around me, but wanting solitude, too. Not to mention the guilt factor. Or the dichotomous emotions returning to Tasmania always evokes. If nothing else, it’s all grist for the mill …
Hi Louise – I agree with Marlish – it’s what we writers think we long for and yet is it all we would imagine? I love that you have taken away so much more than the experience of the time away to write – this is what gives the time its full value. And now maybe you can enjoy writing with all its usual interruption and distraction better too?
It’s very lonely to get up to a quiet house and to turn the light out in one. It made me think of when the kids have all left home and how I’ll cope with that … or not. And also of old age, and how many women have had noisy, full houses, then the kids have left, then they’ve outlived their husbands, and how lonely they must feel every day …
Louise your writing made me want to snuggle under my covers and feel their warmth for just a little while longer; to shut out my reality and tarry in yours. I’ve read your post several times and each time I am filled with yearning.
Like you, I’ve revisited childhood haunts. They were familiar yet changed just enough to seem, at the same time, unfamiliar. The open fields of my youth were now pockmarked with houses. The saplings I used to jump over were evergreens so tall and wide they seemed to block the sun. My childhood home of brick and clapboard was now finished in a gray stone that made it seem cold and unwelcoming. Though the roads were still country lanes as I drove down them I got turned around and had to ask for directions. Even my sense of where I was had shifted..
Thanks for an amazing post but then all of your posts are remarkable.
Thank you for your beautifully written, Penny. Not only are the words kind, but they’re wonderfully evocative. I know what you mean about things changing, not only for how disorienting this can be, but how dissatisfying. Things do change, or sometimes they haven’t changed, but just aren’t how we remembered them.
How are your blog plans going? I do hope you go ahead. Your comments are always so beautifully written and thoughtful, I look forward to reading more of them.
Louise, another beautifully written piece. You took me with you on your journey, past and present.
Your writing touches me in that deep place and evokes so much that I find it hard to comment on the story because I become lost in my own story. But not so lost that I don’t take in every word and experience a sense of deep kinship with you.
I thought if I waited awhile before commenting I might find a place of distance, but that’s not going to happen. And for me that’s part of the wonder of your writing, I can’t give a comment from my head because your words touch my heart.
Tricia, there’s so much I could write in response to your comment. Thank you for your words. When I write, all the time I’m hoping that readers will identify — they may not have had the same experiences as me, but I’m always hoping that at least for some, they’ll have a ‘Yes, I feel that, too’ moment. And that a bond will be formed. So your words are lovely for me to read and thank you.
I wrote this post Freefall, trying to work out why I had felt so unsettled and, yes, so sad. To me, this post now reads like a long ramble, one thread leading to another. It opened things up, but it’s not finished. Since I hit ‘Publish’, there’s a few more things that I’ve realised. That’s the thing with blog posts — it’s a never-ending story and it can be continued …