The Chaplain: A poem for Anzac Day

It’s Anzac Day today. At commemorative dawn services throughout Australia and New Zealand, and at the many scenes of shared battles across the globe – Gallipoli, Villers-Bretonneux and along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, to name a few – people pause to reflect on war and to commemorate the men and women who have gone to war. Those that came back and those that lost their lives.

A couple of years ago, leading up to the one hundredth anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, a call went out from Southerly Journal requesting submissions on the subject of war and peace. I’d had an idea for a poem about war veterans brewing in my mind for a while; I decided to see if I could work my ideas into something worthy of, not just submission, but the topic itself.

I researched Gallipoli, interested mostly on what the soldiers themselves had written about it, how they had perceived it. How they’d been scarred by it.

I made the Southerly Journal deadline but my poem was not selected for publication. Last year Meuse Press put out a call for submissions for an anthology entitled To End All Wars. I submitted my poem, with some minor changes from the original version, but again, it didn’t make the cut.

Shortly after I finished my poem in 2015 I read it to my family. I had read it aloud to myself several times when I was in the final stages of editing, finding that only when I read it aloud was I able to hear the rhythms of the poem’s lines. I had never become emotional when reading it to myself, but as I read it to my mother, my brother and my sister-in-law I found myself holding back tears, and struggling to stop my voice from cracking.

I was embarrassed that my own poetry had made me so emotional. When I looked up into my family’s faces after reading the last line I saw their own eyes had welled up, and two little lines of tears were streaming down my sister-in-law’s face.

Only four other people have read my poem – friends with whom I’d discussed it from the time it was still just an idea, and who’d expressed an interest in reading it when finished. All of them have given me positive feedback.

This small handful of positive responses is why I believe in my poem. I’m not sure I’ll submit it for publication anywhere else, so for the time being I will share it here, on my blog.

The small introductory passage that follows is what I wrote in my submission to Meuse Press, last year.

 

I wrote The Chaplain last year, after several months researching Gallipoli, specifically the experiences of the Australians who fought or were otherwise caught up in it. But really, the formulation of my protagonist, Don, started decades ago when I would watch the old men marching on Anzac Day (as they mostly were back then, before families joined in) and wonder what was hiding behind their eyes. What had they seen?

I wondered what war had done to them and others like them the world over. How might they begin to find peace with what they had done and what had been done to them.

In my own life, finding peace after a period of inner turmoil has only come after the intervention of a relative stranger. Someone whom I knew for only a short period of time but who played a pivotal role in my life.

For Don, my protagonist, the person who has that role is the army chaplain.

 

The Chaplain

There can be no peace without forgiveness, the Chaplain said,
And I thought he was naïve – a fool;
There was no way I would forgive what had been done.

Not by the men we’d fought against, mind you –
We’d looked each other in the eye
Collecting our dead together
And in that moment knew we were alike:
Ordinary blokes
Caught up in something bigger than we’d dreamed
Back when we’d queued to enlist, jostling excitedly like schoolboys,
Hoping we’d pass muster – dreading being told
We weren’t up to scratch and couldn’t go.
Thinking it was all a great adventure –
That it would make men of us,
But it didn’t take long
For war to wipe the smiles from our faces.

No, it was our side I could not forgive:
Those that led us from afar,
Afraid if they came too close they’d smell the death,
The rotting corpses mounting up and up and up –
Right up to the trenches,
So you felt you had to sleep with one eye open
Lest one of them reach out for you as you slept
And drag you up to join them.

The British Generals,
Whose miscalculations had sent us to the wrong beach –
The wrong beach!
Those sadistic bastards
Who thought nothing of sending good men
After good men
To their deaths,
Who sent us over the top again and again
As if they would not be satisfied
Till we were all lying dead
In No Man’s Land –
No,
I would never forgive them.

But the Chaplain had said,
There is no peace without forgiveness,
And I could not forget it;
As the years passed I saw that he was right.

I forgave those men whom I had hated for so long,
The men I’d cursed every Anzac Day
As I’d grimly marched, the medals on my chest.
Old men who were mostly dead or surely close to it;
What was the use of hating them now?

Better to let it go
And finally have a chance at peace, I told myself,
Thinking I knew what he’d meant all those years ago,
Even if I hadn’t been ready to hear it back then –
Back when we came home to live in peace
But were still at war with ourselves.
When we struggled,
Haunted by the sights and sounds of war
Replaying in our dreams,
Like some personal nightly horror show.

If I let the hate go
Perhaps I’d be okay, I thought,
Because I’d seen too many who’d failed
At surviving.
Men who ended it all with a rope or the gas or a bullet in the head –
Good men, honest men –
Even great men we’d looked up to –
Heroes
Like Throssell –
Unable to live with the terror in their mind.
Those men could not forgive
The barbarity,
The crushing inhumanity,
The sickening disgrace of it all.

Over and over the words repeated in my head:
There can be no peace without forgiveness.
But it was many years again before I understood
What he had meant.

Years of aching for a peace that hadn’t come,
An ungodly hollowness growing bigger and bigger within me
As I switched off from life – like so many others –
And tried to kill myself
One bottle at a time.
To hurt the ones I loved
So they would see me as I saw myself:
Some kind of beast who’d killed and maimed,
Who’d shot and stuck men through
So close he’d seen the flicker of surprise in their eyes
And heard their last groans as they fell.
I wanted them to see what I had become in war,
To hate me as I hated myself.

I tried to kill off all that was good about my life,
Punish myself in every possible way,
But still it was not enough;
I could not atone for my sins.
I stared long and hard into the void within
And knew – at last I knew –
Whom I had to forgive.

There can be no peace without forgiveness, Don,
He’d said.
They can’t forgive, they’re gone.
They’re not here to do it for you.
Over and over the words played in my head
And when one day their meaning was revealed
I began, in earnest, to forgive.

To forgive myself for having survived.
For being there every Anzac Day,
Raising beers in their name,
Telling stories that would never grow old,
Yes –
As they would never grow old –
And saying, Lest we Forget, as if I ever could.

To forgive myself for thanking God after every burst of shrapnel
And every rain of bullets
Because I hadn’t been killed
And some other poor chap had.
For wishing men would die quickly –
If they had to die –
So I wouldn’t have to hear their agonising screams.

To forgive myself for treading softly as I left
With sacks around my feet,
A mixture of relief and shame in my heart;
Relief that I was leaving my hell behind,
Shame that I was leaving my mates behind.

To forgive myself for abandoning them –
For failing them –
Even when it made me sick to my stomach
That the whole thing had been a waste.

To forgive myself because their death had been a waste.

To understand that I had been a boy,
A young man no more or less experienced in life than my friends
Who had died.

To understand that none of it was my fault.

To know I could have done no different.

To forgive myself for the sins I’d carried
For forty years,
Sins, I realised, which were not mine after all.

And in understanding,
In forgiving,
To begin, at last, to heal.
To mend what had been broken for so long –
To piece it together bit by bit.
And finally,
In forgiveness,
To find a kind of peace.

I can do this

Hello? Hel-loooo?? Is anyone out there? Anyone??

Well, I’ll just leave this here and see if anyone notices.

So look, when I wrote my last post – over 15 months ago! – I had no idea it would be my last post for a while. In fact, that post was the first I’d written in some time so when I wrote it I felt like perhaps I was back. But I wasn’t. I was just making a guest appearance in a show we’ll call “The Silence of Len’s Blog”. (It doesn’t rate that well but it keeps getting renewed.)

So where have I been hiding? What have I been doing? Well, for the first time since I started freelancing back in May 2013, I worked consistently for over a year – moving from employer to employer and project to project without a break. Some months I was juggling multiple projects, even multiple employers.

Given how much sitting in front of a computer and writing I do in my professional life, I find it hard when I’m working to spend my free time doing exactly that: sitting in front of a computer and writing more.

But I have been writing. There’s been a truckload of poetry, mostly scribbled into my notebook, but also typed into my phone (and in some cases shared via Twitter).

I’ve also handwritten a lot of little micro-fiction pieces into my writer’s diary, using its weekly prompts. I’ve viewed these as small writing exercises to keep my mind fit creatively. Like doing daily sit-ups but for writing. But I also entered three of my favourite pieces in the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Contest last year, and one piece even made it onto the long list.

So writing was on my mind a lot last year. And in fact, the whole time I was working I told myself that the moment I’d get some free time I’d start working again on a project I last worked on in 2013. It started life as an idea for a screenplay. Then I thought it was better suited to a novel, then maybe a novella. But recently I’ve realised it will be best written as a memoir.

The only problem is, I’m not working at the moment and while I’ve kept myself busy doing other things, it’s been three months and I have spent bugger-all time on my project.

It’s made me question whether I really do want to write this thing. I’m a big believer that if you want something you will take steps to get it. If instead you make excuses and create obstacles for yourself, you probably don’t want what it is you say you want.

So why this post now? Well, three recent events have conspired to motivate me.

Firstly, I attended an excellent introductory course on writing memoir, taught by the amazing Lee Kofman. I may write more about this in future, but for the moment suffice to say I had a huge epiphany about my idea as a result of her incredible skill as a teacher and mentor. I left the course that day feeling very positive about what I needed to do.

Secondly, I saw the film Hidden Figures, about three women who epitomized the “stop talking about it and just get out there and do it” ethos that fuelled much of the rights movements in the 1960s and 1970s. After seeing what these three women achieved, I came out of the cinema feeling anything was possible.

And lastly, my very talented 19-year-old niece was recently published in a magazine. Her article was about a deeply personal subject and while I very much admired how well-written it was, what really blew me away was how completely honest she was. How brave she had been to put herself out there in the way she had, acknowledging it was difficult but that she had to do it, to do her subject justice. And I realised if she can show such courage, I can, too.

These three very different experiences all left me thinking and feeling the same thing: Yes, I can do this. And, more importantly, I want to do this. So this post is to announce it to the world. Not that I’m back as a blogger. But that yes, I want to do this. And I can do this.

And I will.

 

Note: I haven’t yet sought permission from my niece to share her article but I will ask and, if granted, I’ll update this post with a link.

Faster. Better. More, more, more.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in IT. I’m a technical writer, but I’ve also worked on an IT helpdesk in the past and I’ve done some BA (business analysis) work.

I kind of fell into IT in a fit of career opportunism that, now that I think about it, characterises a lot of my professional choices. But I did go on to study IT and just over ten years ago I completed my Grad Dip in Information Technology (and did really well, too).

My point is, I not only work in IT, I’m qualified in it. So you could be forgiven for assuming I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, through-and-through IT gal. But you’d be wrong – because I’m a fraud. And I’m not saying that in some kind of impostor syndrome self-outing; I really am a fraud.

Let me explain. When I was a teenager, I defined myself in opposition to my older brother. It kind of went like this: he did science subjects, I did arts subjects. He liked heavy metal, I liked the new romantics. He was into computers and I was absolutely, definitely not into computers.

My brother and my dad, who also loved computers, spent many hours together discussing and doing stuff with them. I had no idea what, but it seemed to make them very happy. And regularly, it seemed to me at least once a year, they would be very excited because it was time to upgrade. I would sit back and observe with a quizzical expression as they enthusiastically took the computer apart and rebuilt it with newer, faster internal ‘bits’.

The 286 became a 386, and then a 486. It made no sense to me at all.

The computer, they would explain, would now start up a full three minutes quicker. They thought this was amazing, while I thought someone was having a colossal laugh at their expense.

Faster! Better! More, more, more!!” I would tease them.

286 model 0 computer

Meanwhile, when I was thirteen, I declared loudly and proudly that, “I will never use a computer!”

(Those are the exact words I used. I’d love to say that this was a one-off moment uncharacteristically lacking in foresight, but in the same year I also declared I would “never shave my legs!” …so yeah, nah.)

The reason I thought I’d never use a computer was because I was going to be a writer. And writers used typewriters; everyone knew that.

I had a kick-arse typewriter. Every press of a key produced a very satisfying ‘clack’ noise. It was solid and it was loud: clack clack clack! The more clacks, the more words you were writing – the better you felt about yourself. A computer keyboard’s muted tap tap couldn’t possibly compare.

1964 Brother typewriter

Needless to say, eventually the typewriter was put out to pasture and by the mid-90s I had my own laptop, the size of a small briefcase. There was no ‘computers are king’ epiphany or anything, it just sort of happened.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself not only working in IT but feeling quite at home among IT people. Even though I feel like a bit of a visitor in their world, I overwhelmingly feel that IT people are ‘my peeps’, perhaps because the original IT people I hung out with – my brother and my dad – were, literally, my family.

But I still find myself scratching my head when people get excited about new technology releases. I still can’t understand why anyone would line up to get the latest iWhatever. When I finally bought a smartphone a few years ago, I chose the model that was ‘three models old’ because it would do for my needs and was cheaper. And the iPad I bought back in August 2010? Yeah, I still have it.

This is partly because I have an instinctive anti-authoritarian bent that makes me want to give the finger to big companies who try to force me to upgrade by making their two year old products obsolete. I get Moore’s Law, but I also kind of resent what it means in practice, i.e. that technology is new for a millisecond and then you blink and it’s out of date.

But I also hang on to old devices because the prospect of upgrading just doesn’t excite me. Faster, better, more more more still seems ridiculous to me. Whereas if I was a true IT convert, you’d think I’d be evangelical by now.

This is why I know I’m a fraud. I just don’t have an IT person’s responses to technology. I even seem to miss the obvious cues when things start to fall apart.

I was genuinely stunned when my Mac died quite suddenly in April last year. Then my brother asked me how old it was and…okay it was from 2007. So yes, at that point, it made a lot more sense.

(A close friend told me recently that a woman on the Apple helpline recently told her daughter, “I see you have a vintage computer.” It was from 2008.)

Clearly I’m not going to change any time soon. My IT instincts are not getting any sharper through some kind of professional osmosis. And I think the Universe has realised this and is taking matters into its own hands.

I say this because my phone has spent the better part of the last year begging me to update its operating system and I have spent the same amount of time resisting. About a month ago things finally came to a head when my phone’s camera stopped working.

My response: You mean I can’t take photos of my dog anymore? Oh no – this has to be fixed!

Did I update my iOS? No, I did not. What I did was make plans to buy a new phone. Just like a non-IT person would.

But then a few weeks ago, as if the Universe had issued some kind of “iPhone heal thyself” edict out of exasperation, my phone came to life in the middle of the night and initiated the iOS update by itself. I woke up at 2am and seeing light emitting from my phone, picked it up and in my slumber had the wherewithal to click “Continue ” (as requested by said phone). I had no idea what was going to continue but it felt like the right thing to do, notwithstanding, or maybe because, I was half asleep.

Glowing Apple logo on Apple iPhone

When I woke up the next day, my phone was working as if it was brand new. No more problems with the camera.

Does this midnight miracle make any sense to me? No it does not. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

Just so long as I can take photos of my dog again.

Gus the cairn terrier, standing by his bed

 

Reading, writing and resolutions

Just over a year ago I wrote very enthusiastically in support of new year’s resolutions – how they’re an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and think about ways to improve yourself by resolving to change something, whether a habit, a lifestyle choice or even just an attitude.

So it’s somewhat ironic then that I didn’t go on to set any new year’s resolutions for 2014.

The truth is, when I’d looked back on 2013 I realised I’d had one of the best years of my life. So I took the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach and decided I didn’t need any resolutions for 2014.

Two points to note here:

Firstly, I didn’t look back critically enough. If I’d looked even a smidge harder, I would’ve found things.

Secondly, even if I hadn’t found anything obvious to change I should’ve at least set a few “continue goals”. (You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever had to do those God-awful performance plans for work; basically you identify what you’ve been doing well and set a goal to continue it.)

I took it for granted that things would continue as they were.

They didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, last year was a good year, too. I’m not complaining. But as I’ve already written, I lost my way a bit with my writing.

Looking back I realise that was inevitable given I hadn’t started the year defining a direction, a focus.

So, given all that, you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve set some resolutions for 2015, nor that they are all geared – directly or indirectly – towards reinvigorating me as a writer and helping me find my way again.

1) More writing. Firstly, this is stating the obvious so I don’t lose sight of the main goal. Secondly, the more writing you do, the better writer you’ll be. In theory, anyway.

2) More reading. This should not only help me reconnect with my love of reading, but also be a practical tool to improve my writing. Just about every list of tips for emerging writers includes an edict to read, read, read and then read some more.

3) Less social media. Especially looking at you here, Twitter. I think most of you will know what I’m talking about (even if for most people, the enormous time-sucking beast is Facebook). Enough said.

4) More yoga. I took up yoga in September and October when I wasn’t working much; guided by a really good yoga app I was doing 45-70 minute yoga routines about three times a week. I absolutely loved it.

Then I started working more frequently and had less time for yoga and eventually stopped it altogether.

I need to bring it back into my life. It’s a great way of maintaining and improving strength and flexibility, and it makes me feel confident, happy and up for writing. It’s no coincidence I wrote more blog posts last October than in the four months either side of it.

5) Get to bed earlier, get up earlier*. I have a tendency to be a night owl, which, if the time were used productively, wouldn’t be an issue. But it isn’t, and the next day I’m exhausted and moody because I haven’t had enough sleep. So exhausted and moody that I don’t want to write. This has to change.

The resolutions are only one tool to help me get back on track with writing. The other tool I’ve invested in is a Writer’s Diary.

I’m not sure if there are lots of writer’s diaries out there on the market, but mine’s by Pilot Press and it’s fantastic. There’s lots of information to encourage and inspire, there are weekly exercises and a space for monthly goals.

Writer's Diary by pilot press (closed)

All of it has been very helpful in a practical way and it’s already responsible for increasing my creative output exponentially in comparison to last year. I love it and I can’t recommend it highly enough for any emerging writers out there.

Thanks to my writer’s diary and the changes inspired by my resolutions, I’m writing more frequently, thinking more creatively about my writing, exploring different styles and genres and generally challenging myself in ways I never have before.

I’m finding my way again. I have the lantern; it illuminates the path. I feel excited and positive as I start to follow it. I can’t wait to see where it will lead.

* Everything’s relative. Lest anyone think I’m trying to become a morning-person (as if!), I’m just aiming to get to bed by midnight and be up by 9:00am.

If I must confess

“Forgive me readers for I have sinned
It’s been three months since my last blog post…”

Yep, it’s been three months – in fact, over three months, since my last blog post. In fact, so far this year I’ve written only six posts, while same time last year I’d written 29 posts. Bit of a difference.

It’s not writer’s block. Or at least, I don’t think it is. It’s more stage fright. But then, maybe that’s a kind of writer’s block.

The thing is, I’ve had lots of ideas for posts. I’ve even written a lot of notes. But I’ve had very little motivation to actually sit down and write; and while other areas of my writing have suffered as well, the blog has taken the biggest hit.

I was at a loss to explain it until recently when it finally dawned on me: I lost my confidence. Didn’t think I had anything of interest to say. I’d get ideas and make notes and then think, ‘Oh who cares what you have to say!’ and the momentum would peter out.

The one thing I have had the confidence to continue doing this year is submit my writing for publication, as I’d done with my flash fiction story. I’ve even had a tiny bit of success with a poem I submitted to Good Morning Bedtime Story’s international mental health poetry competition earlier in the year being highly commended; that was pretty thrilling.

The post that follows this one is a piece of short memoir that was originally written for submission to an annual anthology on the theme of “encounters”. When it didn’t make it through, I decided to develop it further and submit it to another anthology; this time the theme was “loss”. I’ve added another part to it and am now working on a third part.

Unfortunately for the anthology, I got my dates wrong and have missed the deadline. But it’s not all bad news: the anthology’s loss is my blog’s gain, as I’ve decided to publish all three pieces here. And I have to confess, it does feel nice to be able to post something that I feel needs to be ‘out there’; specifically to have the confidence to press “publish” once again, without using someone else as a buffer.

Hope you enjoy reading it.

Fiction in a flash

A few months ago I submitted a piece of flash fiction that I’d written to a competition run by Fish Publishing, in Ireland. I’d heard about the competition through Writers Victoria, which regularly advises its members of opportunities, competitions and courses.

For some reason the little ad about the competition grabbed my attention, even though I’d never written any flash fiction before. It’s a format that intrigues me: how can you tell a meaningful story in a couple of paragraphs?

I have to confess that I haven’t read much flash fiction. I’m a fan of a number of writers on Twitter who write fiction in the space of a tweet (yes, stories in 160 characters or less!), but I’m not familiar with any writers of flash fiction and not even sure where I’d find their work.

In any case, the competition must have been in the back of my mind when a phrase popped into my head: “he looked into her eyes”. It was just a phrase but I immediately wondered if I could turn it into something more. I sat down to write and before I knew it I’d written a story. As I wrote I was conscious that I was trying to capture a character and a relationship, an entire life together in fact, in less than a page. I guess this is the challenge of flash fiction: to write something brief but complete in 300 words or less.

I showed the piece to a friend who gave me some constructive criticism, some of which I took on board, some of which I didn’t – all of which was useful. I submitted my story to Fish Publishing and waited.

Two days ago they wrote to say that my little story – He Looked Into Her Eyes – had made the longlist. If you’re not familiar with the concept, first the competition judges narrow down the submissions to a longlist, then a shortlist, then the runners up and the winners. There were 1250 submissions of flash fiction and 278 made the longlist. I was thrilled to be on it.

I’m definitely interested in exploring the flash format further and seeing what else I can do with it. I’m also really looking forward to reading the Fish Anthology 2014 when it comes out to see what other people did with their 300 words.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d share my story with you.

He Looked Into Her Eyes

He looked into her eyes, squeezed her hand, thought of all the times he’d held her hand, held her in his arms, cupped her breasts, held her to him, the feeling of her bare skin on his, the way they’d explored each other hungrily at first – then tenderly, the times they’d made love, fought, laughed together, sat quietly together, disciplined the children together, played cards with friends, went camping, broke down on the 39 degree public holiday in the middle of nowhere with nothing open around them and no mobile phones to call for assistance – and how she’d laughed, the different ways she laughed, the different ways she cried, the way her voice got higher when she got excited or angry, the way she narrowed her eyes at him when he made excuses for not taking out the rubbish or mowing the lawn, how she’d reacted when he told her she snored – disbelieving at first and then laughing heartily, how they’d playfully teased each other as their bodies began to change, how they’d talked about growing old together when they first met, the day they first met, the day he met her parents, the day she met his mother, the first day he left her alone with the twins and how desperately she’d handed them over to him when he’d walked in the door, the times he’d leaned on her for support and how grateful he’d felt that he had her strength to rely on –

He thought of all of these things as he leaned over her, tenderly brushed the hair out of her face, wiped away the lone tear that had fallen from his cheek onto hers, kissed her passionately and then – only then – nodded to the doctor, who switched off the machine.

Chance Encounters of the Inspiring Kind

Remember the movie Sliding Doors? It centred on the idea that a tiny difference in timing could be life-changing. Someone who changes your life and becomes a central figure in it, could be someone who, but for a few seconds, you might have missed completely. Make the train and meet them, or miss the train and miss out.

In terms of this sort of thing playing out in my own life, I can only really think of one example on a similar scale. When I was travelling to Positano in 2007 it was by sheer luck that I shared the bus into town from Sorrento with a woman named Donna, who was from the States. Not only did Donna help me get off at the right bus stop but her warm, friendly nature broke through my natural barrier of introverted shyness and we went on to form a friendship on that trip that is still going strong seven years later. In fact, it was with Donna that I travelled to Spain early last year.

I’m also very aware that tiny little examples of the Sliding Doors scenario (for want of a better description) are happening all the time.

There has been a remarkable number of interactions, conversations or simply things I’ve seen while walking down the street, stuck in traffic, or sitting on a train that have stayed with me for a long time because they moved me, or taught me something, or simply reminded me of the joyful, simple beauty of life.

Things I would’ve missed if I’d walked on the other side of the street, made the green light, or caught an earlier or later train.

It could be a conversation overheard on the train between two friends. Or a look exchanged between a dog and their walker.

The young man I met on the street late last year, who’d sung to me so unexpectedly and so beautifully, was a recent example.

And this morning it happened again. I was in the car for five minutes driving from the local shopping centre back to my house and I happened to have the radio on, tuned to 3RRR. “Aural Text” was on, a show dedicated to all things literary.

One of the presenters mentioned a spoken word artist, the poet Maggie Estep, who had recently died at age 50, and then played two pieces by her: “I’m an Emotional Idiot” and “Happy”.

The poems spoke to me. They were witty, clever and ironic. They made me laugh at the same time that I was nodding my head in recognition. I know people that are like that, I thought. Hell, at times I have been like that! As the saying goes, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

I had to know more. When I got home I Googled Maggie Estep and found her obituary, first, and then her blog. I looked her up on YouTube and found her there, too. I found her fascinating: a very intelligent writer who’d led a hugely interesting, albeit short, life. I can’t wait to discover more of her work.

What kills me is that a number of random factors had to be synchronised for me to not only hear about Maggie Estep but to hear her performing her poetry on the radio. I’d been delayed at the shops because I’d decided to shop for a gift – I had originally only planned to pick up some groceries. I had ummed and aahed over what I bought for a few minutes and the saleswoman had struggled for a few minutes with wrapping the gift for me (the ribbon wasn’t behaving itself).

Had I not been delayed to the extent that I was, I would’ve been in the car at least five minutes earlier and missed the whole thing. But as it turned out, everything synchronised perfectly, and I was introduced to this incredible artist whose work I find exhilarating and inspirational.

I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly if I’d tried.