Connecting Lives – why I write memoir

February 13, 2013 at 12:31 am | Posted in Australia, Experiences, Family, History, Making History, Philosophy, Psychology, Writing and Life | 18 Comments

CountryRoad in headlights_BW

There was no moon. From inside the car, our headlights illuminated the ever approaching, ever passing, road. Some of the light escaped the black surface, reflecting against trees and grass and white posts along the roadside, at times appearing to create a wooded tunnel through which we sped. In other places the eucalypts scattered into open woodlands. Further on, were more and more cleared paddocks carrying the animal that rivals the kangaroo as our national emblem. Post and wire fences edged the verges, defining the road rather than the paddocks, somehow isolating it. We drove along a corridor, from which real life was suspended until we reached our destination.

It was central NSW in the early 1980s, and we were driving home from a holiday trip. I felt the dry warmth of the heater that kept out the cold winter night and glanced behind me. In the back of the station wagon, our five boys sprawled on mattresses, blankets scattered over their sleeping forms. It had been a long and active day, and we still had another fifty miles to go. Joe and I had fallen silent, discussion on our holiday activities exhausted. He drove, as he always did, more focussed tonight than usual on the road’s dangers. Kangaroos or wallabies had no concept of waiting for a passing car before they crossed the road. I relaxed, staring through the windscreen at the mesmerising asphalt strip.

A light seemed to flutter through the passing trees, and my gaze drifted sleepily to the left, to the barely-seen outline of a farmhouse, set back a little from the road. Uncurtained windows glowed a warm yellow against the blackness. It must be dinnertime, I thought. Perhaps it’s a family, eating together at the end of their working day: father talking about what he’d got done, about what needed doing tomorrow, next week. He and mother smiling as the kids shared what had happened in school, or on the bus that took them thirty miles each way every day. I felt a longing rise inside me. How nice to be in our own home, the journey over, boys in bed, Bill occupied with one of his projects and me, comfy in a lounge chair with a novel.

I sighed. Maybe my cosy farmhouse picture was wrong and quite different occupants shared a less than homely light. I imagined an old man, leathery face set in deep discontented lines. Across the once colourful table cloth, now soiled by crumbs and spills, sat a small, white-haired woman, hunched and silent. There was no friendly conversation here. Childlessness and disappointment had worn a deep divide between them. Years of enforced cohabitation, love and respect long buried, had led to a cold and bitter truce. Their only goal was to get through each dreary day. I shuddered at that scenario and looked for more lights.

A few minutes later, I saw one on the side of a hill. Again, uncurtained windows hid rather than exposed the occupants within. Nobody out here to peer in on their intimacy, only a passing whoosh, hardly noticed, carrying a reflective passenger on her way. Who are the people in that house, I wondered. Another surge of feeling washed over me, so strong that I glanced across at Joe to see if he’d noticed. His eyes still darted here and there across the road, face impassive. He probably wouldn’t notice anyway.

I looked again at the lighted windows, now disappearing behind us and felt a sense of loss. I wanted to know who they were, these people whose lives were completely separated from mine. I wanted to share in those lives; feel their joys and successes, their sorrows and failures; know what they did and why, how they lived and worked and what they shared – love or hatred, fear or security. Strange I should feel that way when I had a full and reasonably adequate life of my own. It was the same urge, to be a part of other lives, that I get when I visit cemeteries, especially those with old headstones. The names written there, the relationships – “my dearest wife”; “cherished daughter”; “sadly missed” husband”; a son “tragically taken” – are more than just words to me. They belong to a world where I might have belonged, where I might have had my own special place.

night driving

We drove on. Every lighted window we passed that night reminded me of the disconnection of existence, and of how I wanted to make connections instead. Everywhere that I see people, whether singly or on groups, every news story or biography, memoir or personal story reminds me of how I can take a tiny peek into a small part of strangers’ lives. But there are many more who I can never, will never know, never share an action or word or thought with. To me, given other circumstances of birth, they could have been people I know intimately. They are might-have-been brothers or sisters, parents or cousins, close friends or bitter enemies.

Every now and then, I still see the homely yellow glow of a lighted window. But many of the windows I pass along my life’s road are dark. Their inhabitants leave nothing, not even a headstone, to mark that they were here.

I think we all deserve to be remembered somehow. Perhaps that’s why I have the constant urge to write my own life, to share my experiences and thoughts, trivial though they might be. It is a way to connect with others. To let them see a distant lighted window and wonder at the person inside. To give them a glimpse of how another person faced her life. For me, it is also a way to explore my existence, to give it meaning, justification, validation. I wrote, therefore I existed. I woz ere.

I woz ere

(c) Linda Visman


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  1. Wonderful post, Linda. Reminds me of a play I once watched called “People Live there.” I wonder if there was anyone in one of those houses you passed who thought about the car that was passing in that moment.

    • Thanks Don. 🙂 I doubt that any of them would even notice; one gets used to the sound of passing traffic until it no longer impinges.

  2. I felt the same way when we came home. What are those people doing in their houses dotted here and there. I guess we all wonder what each other is doing in parts of the world, wondering about things is how I feel we make those first steps to know about the world around us, to communicate. Wish more people would wonder about things instead of falling into their own little lonely holes.

    • I think it is an attribute of humans that we share a bond with others and need to have connections. More than that, we can imagine those connections, even when they are never made. The lonely holes belong to those who have cut themselves off from the possibility of making connections I think. Thanks for visiting. 🙂

  3. Beautiful, heart felt piece, Linda. Your writing stirs that need to know about others and how we relate to each other.

    • Many thanks Vicki. I am pleased this piece created that response for you, and I know that need to know is, for you, one of the reasons for you lovely writing. 🙂

  4. Maybe I write fiction because I want to live vicariously though others … Much to think about, Linda.

    • Tina, I think readers of fiction, memoir, blogs and the like are the ones who wish to live vicariously through the characters. When you create your own fiction, you not only live through your characters, but your readers do too. It is a great thrill to be able to do that. 🙂

  5. Thanks so much Linda. I really enjoyed that. You should add the twitter share button so I can tweet your blogs. I have nearly a 1,000 followers.

    • Thanks Debbie, glad you enjoyed it. 🙂
      I don’t do Twitter, so didn’t think I could add a button, but if I can, I will do that. Thanks.

      • Now that’s a question. Perhaps you have to be a member but maybe worth a try.

      • Linda, are the group meeting tomorrow arvo. If so could you give me the address and I’ll come if that’s okay.

      • That would be great, Debbie. It is held in the Toronto Multi-purpose Centre, 9 Thorne St, at 2pm. We will be having a guest speaker, author Chris Allen. Cost, to cover afternoon tea etc is $5. Looking forward to seeing and meeting you at last. 🙂

      • Looking forward to it to. Will see you then.

      • It was nice to finally meet you on Saturday and I really enjoyed the talk and also your writing on the newsletter.
        Best wishes

  6. Excellent piece. Similar feelings when I am driving sometimes. Really hit a spot.

  7. Loved your final sentence. 🙂

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