The phrase I’ve used for a title is from my friend and writing colleague, Marian Edmunds. She hasn’t read Gillian Mears’s prize winning novel, Foal’s Bread, yet, but I’ve just lent it to her, and she’s also going to buy a copy for her best friend, on the strength of an interview between Philip Adams and Gillian Mears on Late Night LIve. You can listen to the interview on YouTube. I wasn’t able to stay up late enough to listen to it live last night, and I can’t hear the volume properly on my YouTube (search me why) but I think it would be even better to see them both, and hear them. It is a moving and beautiful experience. Next best thing, or even as good, I think, is to read the transcript of her letter to Philip, written at 3 am after their interview. She wanted her interview to be perfect, acutely aware it was likely to become a “legacy” interview, as she has advanced Multiple Sclerosis, and is a supporter of euthanasia.
The incredible thing is that she wrote her wonderful latest (I won’t say last!) novel from her bed. It took her ten years, but was well worth it. See my review of 23 Jan 2012. But back to her letter to Philip Adams. Here, she puts some things differently than she did in the interview, writing her “grasshopper thoughts” early in the morning. Here I take the liberty of copying the letter, minus images.
It’s 3 o’clock in the morning and I can’t sleep, mulling over all that I recently failed to say during my hour in your studio. My cat is as light as a feather on my chest as I type, and your dog ‘Squire’ no doubt even in sleep is keeping a watchful eye out for his beloved master.
My Horus amulet, I forgot to describe as we talked about our mutual childhood fascination with the ancient world, was very small, not much taller than a thumbnail. As a child I’d hold the Sun God in my hand, peering through his falcon’s eye, wondering about the ancient Egyptian who once must’ve owned him. Was yours also of similar dimensions and made from very hard dark stone?
Having mentioned to you the possibility that an ex-lover had stolen my amulet, it occurs to me that perhaps I chucked it myself into the Clarence at Lilydale, along with all my baby teeth and many other hoarded treasures when MS first made it clear that Bertholt Brecht style I had to ‘Leave too my ship lightly behind.’
I think it’s best if I can just be like a grasshopper in this letter, leaping from one thought to the next.
I find I’m very curious about your exact method for taking out Bathurst Burr, which you’ve written so often about. Is it more difficult than the Rattle weed and Crofton that has unfortunately finally reached the Clarence? I once dreamed that in the style of Sydney’s bush-regenerating Bradley sisters, I’d rid the small rainforest remnant on my father’s block of all its weeds. Crofton’s noxious to horses and so is a real worry.
Life is a strange cup of tea don’t you think? Once it seemed the pot from which I poured was endlessly copious but now this is not the feeling.
I really cherish that I lived at Dad’s for a time, under a tarpaulin on a ridge pole, building a little house on the site where it’s rumoured long ago, before Dad bought his block, an uncle’s hut used to be. I dug many of the postholes for the fence put up to keep the cattle out of the garden. That’s a task that suited my temperament. As the hole got deeper, a crowbar was needed to get through giant slabs of sandstone. A very fine type of soil lay beneath, so crumbly and sweet, that Ralda, from Foal’s Bread, could’ve made biscuits from it.
Although I haven’t lived on the Clarence since 1999, I remember many things. How the sound of horses’ hooves sounded hollow on Dad’s hill. I really miss riding horses. The smell of my saddle. My hand beneath my horse’s mane as she began to dance around in the wind preceding a storm.
I loved finding out from my most fervent LNL Gladdie friend earlier this year, that your very name means horse. We fought for a while over what kind of a horse you would be. I imagined a Percheron/Thoroughbred cross with just a bit of hair on your fetlocks and an incredible leap, whereas she was convinced you were a rare, pure black Welsh Mountain Pony stallion.
At the reference you made to an old feature article which described my sisters as being somewhat wild, I should’ve said that I view them as part of a Mears Family Forest. The 1970s was when we were but sapling sisters, no wilder I don’t think or anymore sexual, than any other girls of Grafton. Definitely middle aged trees now.
It’s possible, that as the She Oak up on the lonely ridge, I’ll have to be the first to fall. A tree’s death can let in a lot of much needed light. Weeds too, I can hear you say and you’re not wrong.
I was surprised when you didn’t take the bait offered to speak more deeply of death. I fear therefore that my mention of Dr Rodney Syme may come across too baldly, when it goes to air, without enough comforting preliminaries. I meant to make mention of a Justice Brennan as quoted in Rodney’s book, saying that ‘Death is profound and personal’ and that true to that judge’s thoughts, I wish for my own death to be ‘quiet and proud.’
How tender your memory of Judy from Seven Little Australians feeling with her foot the lapping of the waters as her life ebbed away. I can’t but help also think that it might be like this line from John Gillespie Magee’s poem High Flight: – “Up, up, the long delirious burning blue.”
I don’t mean to upset anyone when I say that I can’t remain alive if things in my body get much worse than they already are. A funny paradox though is that without the last two years of virtual bed confinement, I might never have watched films again. Once upon a time I was an avid film watcher. Lonely Heartsby the way was a great favourite.
One of the few joys of living on a bed occurs when film buff friends arrive with a new bag full of DVD riches.
What did you think of Tony Ayres’s WALKING ON WATER? Wouldn’t you agree that the scene with the plastic bag over the dying lover’s head is impossible to forget? How about THE SEA INSIDE, the Alejandro Amenábar film based on the life of Spanish quadriplegic Ramon SanPedro and his thirty-year fight for voluntary euthanasia? My Pain specialist, (who by the wonderful way has shelves full of literature in his office as well as the usual dull looking textbooks), tells me in subdued tones that the end Ramon ended up manufacturing, a potassium cyanide cocktail through a straw, is a very painful and not necessarily instant death.
I’m glad to have twice watched Yakita Yojiro’s limpid classic DEPARTURES. Do you remember that one? Or the sound of the white calf in THE WEEPING CAMEL, abandoned by its mother at birth? How that keening is the sort that might come out of me if I let it. A bawling, bewildered, battered grief.
My morning meditations, with the assistance of heart shaped stones sent to me from rivers and beaches from friends all around Australia, have stopped a lot of that calf noise in me, as surely as the Mongolian violin hung from my mother camel’s front hump.
My cat likes to meditate with me, usually sitting exactly over each new heart stone which I always place right on top of my own artificially ticking heart. I’ve written to you this morning instead. Don’t worry; I won’t make a habit of it. I know quite simply that there is no time anymore for letters (though I hope I will find the eventual wellness to respond to the hundred or so outstanding, from grateful readers of Foal’s Bread, including people named Ralda).
I felt awkward Phillip when you had to hold up my novel’s cover to the new studio camera. I’m sure I wasn’t imagining your embarrassed resignation to this invasion of your once sacrosanct space?
Life is a strange cup of tea don’t you think? Once it seemed the pot from which I poured was endlessly copious but now this is not the feeling. How did I forget to mention my longing to have been God with you in 1940s Eltham, as per your 1977 essay in Unspeakable Adams – “safe inside Grandpa’s arms, behind Blossom’s colossal rump, creating the earth via sweet smelling furrows?”
Soon my morning carer will arrive. I better make haste to finish.
If Walker Books brings out my fable The Cat with the Coloured Tail in time, can I come in to talk to you again? In my yearning for God I’m a cat purring, stretching out her paw in the hope that The God of Lost Things, of whom I’ve often written, will at last pick me up. My real cat has slid down into the knothole of my right elbow. Now this is one fingered typing, time to wind this letter up.
I will be praying in earnest to my God of Lost Things to take very good care of you when you have to go to hospital soon.
I subscribe myself to you always with affectionate regard,
Your Gillian Grasshopper xo