Saturday, 11 July 2015

Reflection on Writers in Action 2014

Festival Withdrawal

And we come to it at last – my final post for the festival. I can no longer pretend this is still an “on the ground” blog - that wonderful weekend in August is well and truly behind me now.

Being part of the Writers in Action class, hearing the stories and the laughter, the nerves, the wonder, I know the Bendigo Writers Festival left a deep impression on all of us.

For me, it meant shaking Raimond Gaita’s hand and laughing with Mandy Sayer; it meant sitting beside Sophie Masson to hear my old primary school librarian, Lyn White, speak about publishing. 

The festival was sleeping through alarms in a cosy hotel just 5 minutes away from my first seminar. It was squeezing into the same little Italian café every afternoon for coffee, dashing through the car park, meeting Jane Curtis from the ABC. Or else setting up camera shots, coercing a kind, grey haired man to impersonate an author for a moment or two, drinking free wine and stealing sandwiches.

I did more in one month than I had thought possible in my old sleepy state. I helped write a documentary for Channel 31. I had a story published on ABC Open and featured on Radio National. I reconnected with an old mentor and family friend.

Now, I keep two things by my desk. A photo of Liam Davison from all those years ago. And my festival pass, slung over the little silver lamp. This has been more than a subject and more than a trip to Bendigo. I have been woken up. 

For too long, the twin tensions of environmental activism and writing have tugged at my attention, each vying for more room in my life. The festival has given me back something of myself, a dream I had as a kid, of walking in a library and seeing a novel with my name on it up there on the shelf, of writing every day of my life.

Still, I keep thinking of something Raimond Gaita said:

Always, even in the most appalling circumstances, there have been a handful of people who redeemed humanity through their courage and integrity.

I remember that was when he put his essay aside, when he stopped reciting and really looked at us all. He spoke of his daughters, of their activism. He asked how we face the world as it stands today, in the grip of a climate crisis unlike anything we've ever seen before. 

Humanity is not something fixed or secure, he said. But always something we are called to rise to. Now, more than ever, we are being called. 

400,000 people marched all around the world this week for real action on their future. Sunday morning in Melbourne, I joined one of the earliest of the rallies, standing hungover and groggy under the sun at the steps of the State Library. My phone was dead. My work colleagues were scattered around me somewhere like ants in a kitchen. But, I remembered Raimond's words then and felt the truth of them.

I’m still not sure exactly how I will unite these two forces in me, but I feel now, more than ever, that they are connected in some way. After all, they are both what wake me up in the morning, what drive me to near madness; they can make me speak too fast for most sane humans to understand and forget to call Mum. They are in my DNA. 

And, finally, for the first time since I've been a starry eyed teenager, I think I can actually do them both.

Now, in closing, let me leave you with this helpful little guide....

The Five Stages of Festival Withdrawal

1. Denial

"Well, sure, the official weekend is over, but I've been down to the Thank You dinner and I still have my premium pass so..."

2. Depression

"I miss Raimond."

3. Anger

"I don't even care if they never have another festival!"

4. Bargaining

"If I baked brownies in the shape of wombats, how open do you think Jackie French would be to a quick pop in visit?"

5. Acceptance (of a kind)

"It's probably too early to buy my pass for next year, isn't it?"

This post first was first published as Sherryn at the festival and has been re-blogged with permission. You can read the original here.

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