Last year I took a class with Kelly Gardiner and Michelle Dicinoski in Writing Autobiography. Most of the lessons involved a series of writing prompts I assume were designed to get us producing in short manageable blog posts or chapters. The first of the prompts was to write in the style of Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes of a Childhood‘. It was probably the most successful and something all writers should have a go at. Here’s my attempt:
The burning of the wooden car in Gunns Plains, the thick smells of the flames, the greengage tree. Life at the shed house. Lemon dresses. Seersucker tablecloths. Pinwheels.
Discussing my eye patch with Corey at the water hole. Flash forward to my birthday just days after my brother dies. Corey doesn’t seem to be there but there are neighbours and their kids – kids I’ve never even spoken to – sitting in my front lounge. I’m given strange socks with soles on the bottoms and zig zags running up their length. I don’t really know what to do with them.
The mostly brown, garish bag my father brings home after I beg him for a backpack. I’m so small in comparison that the bag hits my legs at the mid-calf. The bus-stop kids label it the Tree Trunk Bag after a dog comes and pees on it.
Missing Halley’s comet.
Refusing to join Brownies because I’m convinced it’s the Australian equivalent of the League of German Girls.
Mum burying our ram during the middle of summer. It takes her all day due to the drought-hard ground and the ram being the size of a small horse. Dad used almost all the spare money we had to buy that beast and, in order for Mum to not kill him, then purchased half a dozen malnourished ewes for breeding. I spent the whole trip home hoping they wouldn’t die.
The political buttons in our kitchen drawers. Reusing the washing water to clean our clothes load by load over. Bucketing it in from the trough with an ice-cream container . We constantly had thrush, but somehow escaped nits.
Watching Twin Peaks with my mother while my father was away at sea.
Piercing Melissa’s ear each week until there’s no space left to stick another hole in. Her blonde hair so straight, like it’s cut with a ruler. Bones gliding under skin as her shirt falls away.
My two best friends: my dog and The Point. Yes, The Point is a place… but if I could just return, and feel it under my feet, knowing my childhood – my dog’s bones – are in that soil, I know I’d be okay.
Folding morgue sheets at the launderette at fifteen. I’m not working with the women from El Salvador today, but with the boss’s daughter. Realising the true advantages of privilege as she chats away about her university plans.