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Silence Speaks

Reflections on a weekend of silence

As I write this, I am sitting in a café drinking pineapple juice and it feels lovely on my throat. My throat – let me tell you about what happened, and I’ll do my best to make it interesting.

How did I lose my voice?

I couldn’t believe it happened to me but pirates came and took it away from me for a few days; they didn’t even leave a business card.

Okay – I’m terrible at lying so just going to stop there.

No pirates, no losing my voice – I gave it up, voluntarily, for a few days.

I had a sore throat earlier last week and it was improved by a couple of days off work. After going to work it started to hurt again. And then I saw a good friend I hadn’t seen for five years. We had a lot to talk about. Cue to my sore throat throat – it felt like knives sharpening as I swallowed.

So, after more chats and normal voice activities, I took myself off to the doctor. She said that things had actually improved since she had seen me a few days earlier but it was red and raw still; talking was the culprit.

I had no idea that talking could affect it. I had, of course, Googled all the remedies and Facebook-enquired for must-have remedies and saw the next few days involving lots of honey spoonfuls, garlic munching and salt water spitting out. Well, yes it did but the doctor had a new one for me.

“You need to stop talking,” she said. “Just tell your friend you can’t talk for a few days, you can do the listening.”

Inside, I was doing flips. What! My friend, from Norway, here for only three weeks and staying with me: I had so much to tell her. But I needed to also listen to my doctor’s instructions and get better.

First, I used a notepad and a pen to write to my friend. That was interesting. It kind of worked but writing detailed things felt like a lot of effort. It still worked.

That night we went down to Torquay beach, my husband and I took my friend there and we sat and ate fish and chips. It was a strange feeling to be there in a conversation but not be able to be involved more than giving expressive eye contact and basic gestures.

My first experience with a waitress: I found that frustrating to not be able to say “thanks” and especially “thanks” (with a general wave) when I left the venue. It was, however, interesting to see that I could still convey emotions without using words. Using my eyes, hand gestures and what I tried to convey even more – a “vibe”. A vibe that showed all the things I would say – the pleasantries.

woman looking out at ocean

Photo by Josh Adamski on Unsplash

That night, my pen ran out on my notebook. I threw it down in frustration and gave up using pen and paper to communicate with. I am, of course, all for pens and paper and writing but it didn’t match the pace or flow for verbal conversations.

A text-to-speech app became an interesting tool I used for a while. I quickly got the nickname “Robot Annie” but I shrugged that away after a few uses because it was hard to get past the “robotic” voice.

The next day proved interesting. My friend was still here so it was still about spending time with her. I also was hosting a family barbecue! I wasn’t daunted by the second prospect because I figure other people would do all the talking. (They did.)

Going out to cafes I normally go to, a staff member I normally chat with was surprised to see me not talking.

She looked at me with sympathy and apologised: “Sorry, I’m not good at sign language.”

“I’m not either,” I whispered.
“It is hard on Anna because Anna likes to talk.” My friend explained.

Lunch was lovely – my friend did the talking while I asked questions using the “Notes” section on my phone.

“Do u have that in Norway?”

“What happened there”

Other questions quickly typed.

She became very good at interpreting my own gestures and hand movements.

What I was starting to notice from the experience were the range of emotions which came from being silent.

Firstly, there was a feeling of isolation. Feeling “left out”. Feeling like a child in a world of adults. That was hard.

Yet, what was relieving was that, from a social point of view, there was hardly any stress at all.

I used to have a lot more social anxiety than I have now and I’m thankful that has improved, however it’s not unusual for me to feel slightly anxious at the thought of hosting a party with 8+ people.

However I had hardly any anxiety in that sense while I was silent. It felt like I had a social ‘pass’, which I kind of did.

The other thing I learnt is, that while words and speaking is beautiful, it is also beautiful to enjoy some non-verbal moments as well. Eye contact, reaching out to tap an elbow as a sign of comradeship and all the other subtle gestures. It was nice to do that.

I found I would also pray more, being silent.

Another thing I did was go opp shopping. When it came time to pay, I beckoned to the shop volunteer to my throat and my mouth in what I thought said, “sorry can’t talk.”

She thought I was deaf and spoke louder.

The next day at church, I didn’t sing any songs but I found myself swaying and moving to the music more. I watched the deaf community and the interpreter (a friend doing it that day) with interest and, in honesty, newfound interest.

Watching all the signs and picking up some of them: there is beauty and poetry and truth in those gestures. Something within me yearned to learn Auslan, sign language, in the same way I would like to learn French.

I met a guy a few weeks ago working in a kitchen. He spoke sign language and some of his work mates were learning it as well.

During my time of not speaking, I imagined myself back in that day retrospectively, but with the talent of sign language. I could have at least said ‘hey, how are you going?’ in sign.

The barbecue went well. By this stage I was being naughty, whispering a little, as I thought that would not strain my voice as it’s not technically speaking. (How wrong that is – whispering can actually strain the voice more, according to several Google result searches.)

What I noticed that, when I whispered, when I spoke, the person was silent and gave me their full attention. They waited on my words. That was interesting.

In terms of my throat healing, not speaking seemed to be working.

As well as bringing healing, I was also taught me a lot.

It gave me empathy to those who don’t have a voice.

And it made me realise that when people talk, no matter how softly they speak, we should stop and listen. And that includes using a “robot voice” too.

Post Script: I am now adding some basic sign language (Auslan) to my list of languages to learn. What about you, do you know any sign language and have you found it helpful/empowering?

 

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Revisiting My Student Days

Reflections from writing at my old university library café

Enrolling in a master’s degree after my first degree was one of the best things I did. It was a decision which was pivotal to my development as a writer and something which helped me in the years afterwards.

I enrolled in it for a couple of reasons: personally, things weren’t going very well in life and I had gotten off track as to who I really was.

I knew, in my gut, that doing a master’s degree was the answer. Professionally, I was curious to the doors which it would open, if any.

Would it be the same as my arts degree? Better? Would I meet more like-minded writerly friends? Hey, it was a good excuse to move back home, drink lots of coffee and live the life of a student for a couple more years.

Before I tell you about the course, and the fun things I learnt and all that which I know you’re hoping to hear, let me tell you about Mari. We did the course together, well some subjects anyway, and soon became fast friends. We both loved writing and wanted to change the world. We collaborated on a blog back then: Stories of Geelong.

Writer Friends Are The Best

Having Mari as a friend helped me realise, as a writer, how essential it is to have writerly friends. Essential for joy, but really it’s just a joy. She is from Norway and now lives in Norway, but I consider her a lifelong, good friend and we never run out of things to talk about.

We used read each others’ stories and sit by the Deakin Waurn Ponds lake with takeaway coffees in hand, brownie split in half, birds pecking around us. One such bird (and his likeness) I nicknamed “Harry” and then wrote a story about him for a Short Story assignment. “Harry, the Duck Hunter” was the name of it and it’s not what you think, but you’ll find that out if you ever read it.]

In that class, we undertook “workshopping” for the first time and, under the guidance of a wonderful professor, it was not as scary as I thought. A bunch of writers reading their work out to other writers for the sake of criticism (albeit constructive) can feel dismal but it doesn’t have to, if it’s done right.

I know this sounds all rosy and happy-tinted glasses, but the past could use with some memorialising: I’m okay with that.

Then & Now

Going to university, as a younger person or adult (I was 25 the second time round) is a hard slog: you need a part time job, you need to multi-task, you need to stay up very late and knock assignments out with soft drink and chips and chocolate.

(Note: on the last point… after completing university I realised that that the staying-up-late thing is called Procrastination. I was an ace at it.)

The opportunities of study, however, are so multifold. The course content, the qualification, the likeminded people you can meet and just the whole experience.

It’s also a great chance to meet a cross-section of people in society outside your usual social societies. International students. People from regional Australia. People from the city. And so on.

Today I sit in my old library, in the café, and overlook the old campus foyer. This is where my dad to uni, this is where my sister went to uni and this is where I went to uni. Each time, the buildings and landscape and people were changed but the essence remains the same.

Students wearing casual clothes holding coffee, bulging back packs with books – I remember it! (Has technology made that burden lighter?)

I remember the happiness when this café was first built around a decade ago. How avant-garde, how wonderful it felt to have a library with a café inside. It felt like a modern commercial bookshop: coffee brewing, books being opened, conversations being had. A different library experience to what I was used to: dead silence and (understandable) disapproving stares should that golden rule was broken.

The café barista is cherry and the cabinet counter has options it didn’t have ten years ago: Vegan salads, all these healthy counter salads actually, and non-dairy milks like coconut, soy and almond. You can even get soy mochas.

A subtle sign advertises the fact that those using a Keep Cup get a discount, something perhaps we weren’t as aware of back then. What hasn’t changed are the cheap food prices – student-friendly food prices. That is heartening.

Other things have also subtly changed. There is now a TV in the library which runs ABC News on mute. The Wi-Fi instantly connects me as a guest (I remember when you needed to sometimes call IT to get help with that.)

Walking into the library, there is almost a reflective effect from all the silver MacBooks at play. The world is much more Apple here than it was in my master’s. Then again, I remember taking out an interest-free student loan and “investing” in a shiny new white MacBook. It was all so expensive and especially with the extended AppleCare warranty for a nervous new Mac user.

(It lies, now, somewhere in my office along with other over-used lap tops. But gosh, it was worth it, though I am a bias Apple lover I admit.)

Other things that are still true: seeing academics in the café or talking nearby still impresses me. I don’t know why, they just do.

The Experience of University Something You Carry In Your Backpack Afterwards

A boy walked past with a Bob Marley backpack. There is coloured hair. Students looking worried. 12pm being a 9am start for some, heralded by coffee. And there is still a sense of momentum meets optimism as fear of the unknown and hope of the unknown is held up in conversations, both privately and publicly.

But other things haven’t changed: political journals displayed on the forefront. People eating chips while on the move. Students wearing hoodies: lots of hoodies. The old beautiful trees are still casting their leaves on the ground. People still walk fast, like they are late to a tute. And headphones are still worn on the ears or around the neck as a functional reward. Plus, some still walk slow too: they “cruise”.

I see skinny students, boys in crew jumpers and young faces walking along with books and I wonder if they will be Geelong-Melbourne commuters working in finance in five years time. I see exchange students and I wonder if they will carry university (and Australia) in their hearts after they leave Australia, like a moveable feast. That is not my own expression but the beautiful phrase  Hemingway coined to describe his time in Paris as a young man.

I wonder if I will do a Ph.D here one day, and come back? Don’t you wish you sometimes had five life times to pursue different arms of your passions?!

And the lake still looks great. I was happy to see Harry (or some of Harry’s relatives before too) today and he was happy to see me, too!

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Reunion with Harry (or distant relative) many years on!

My 3 Tips On Writing

Are you wanting to become a writer? You might already be one.

And if you don’t think so, well, you can become one.

I’ve been writing professionally since 2011, before then I was studying it for almost five years. I love it so much – there is always something new to learn, but most importantly write. So whether you’re at university, studying for a 21st century writing career ahead or penning away at a novel squirrelled in your study, post-work, I’ve put together a few tips which may be of service. Read More

Dresses from The Dressmaker Movie

Note: Some posts deserve an excited, 1st person introduction. Please see below:

Hey! If you like beautiful dresses, I know a place where there are lots – but only until the 11th of March this year. I’m talking about the Dressmaker Costume Exhibition, currently on at Barwon Park Mansion in Winchelsea.

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, these intricate costumes – designed by EMMY nominated and AACTA winning costume designer Marion Boyce, – are worth seeing for their beautiful handiwork, vintage references and detailing. Known for her costume design in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Marion says it was an honour – and certainly not one to take lightly – to be involved in such a film. Read More

On Being

“Hey friend! Lovely to see you. How’ve you been?”
“Busy. Just really busy.”

“Hi! Haven’t seen for you a while, how are you?”
“Good. Yeah, just busy! Flat out. You?”

“Hey {Insert Name}! How are you? What you have been up to?”
“Good. I do things. All the things. In fact, I’m really busy, busy, busy!!! Zzzzzz!! I’m busier than a bee, seriously… they have it easy. What about you? Gosh I’m busy! Sorry, I don’t have time to chat.”

Ok, so that last conversation may be a slight exaggeration but you get the point.

Read More