May 27th, 2018


Moorepark Memoir

   So the Geelong* Writing Club puts out an annual anthology and recently put the call out for next edition, and the theme this time is... the hardest theme of all topic. ::cue picture of Edvard Munch's the Scream:: *Geelong being my nearest large town. Submissions may be poetry, flash fiction, short story, and memoir. The flash fiction prompt is this picture, which includes the caption "Early morning, Barwon River" (which runs through Geelong), but if I can ignore the caption (it just says respond to the picture so it depends on if the caption is considered an inherent part of it?), the picture does actually remind me of the low native fishing boats I've seen in Africa -- if I can just come up with a 300 word plot arc. Short story I'll try to come up with something after the memoirs, since the memoir deadline is earlier. Feel free to submit yourself I guess if you want, even though that means more competition for me ;) but I don't write poetry so I especially welcome you to have a wack at that.

   Memoirs is an interesting topic one doesn't see in writing contests as often, I had to read through the memoirs in last year's edition to familiarize myself with the parameters -- it seems to be just a presumably non-fiction slice from the author's past that doesn't necessarily have a plot arc, just a general feeling of nostalgia is enough. In the case of this anthology it's almost all from the 70s in Australia, absolutely chock a block with Aussie slang. Now I'm not old enough to have any stories from the seventies (I didn't exist), nor is my memory good enough to come up with anything from the 80s. As to the 90s maybe if I really poured the shmaltz on I could have something from the family cabin in the foothills north of Los Angeles or the snow blanketed landscape of winter in Sweden, but I'm much better with more recent events (again, my memory is actually really terrible, if I didn't blog who knows what I'd even know about my past :X )

   And so I decided to also conform to their memoirs-about-Australia thing and adapt the LJ Idol Introduction I'd written while in Bundaberg to be a memoir of that time (ambitiously pushing the mists of time all the way back to 2012!). I prefer writing in present tense even for past events but to emphasize the this-is-a-memoir! of it I'm trying to convert it to past tense (in the below you'll see this is kind of inconsistently completed, if it's in the past but the sun always rises does one still write about it in the past tense? Ties my brain in knots!)

   We can make two submissions per genre so I will also be taking the piece about Guinea which I had shortened for the really short prompt of the last contestA and seeing what I can add back in. I might post that as well, though that would be basically the third time I've posted a version of that piece so you might be getting tired of it


   The sun, quite impertinently, refused to set over the ocean as I had grown up accepting as the only proper solar behavior. Instead it would hide its colorful daily finale behind the tangled branches of mangroves and eucalypts.
   Not one to be out-witted by a giant ball of gas, I swam out beyond the waves and watched the sun set from there. As I slowly backstroked about in the warm water, the sky would fade through ever darker blues to black and a stunning array of stars come out. Huge flying foxes would begin to glide about above, eclipsing unfamiliar constellations. It's funny, I mused, how you take the stars for granted until you find yourself in a place where they're all different and you have no point of reference in the sky. Finally I would reluctantly leave the balmy water and walk the hundred yards to my house.
   I tried to outwit the sun by getting up early enough for sunrise, but one step ahead the wily bastard actually rose over a headland which curves out into the Coral Sea, so the sun rises and sets without ever touching the water.

   By 06:30 when I'd be headed to work it was usually already too hot for hot coffee. The first and often only human interaction of my day would be at the bakery, where I'd stop for a meat pie for breakfast. “How are you?” I'd ask the proprietress. “Thanks” she would say. “How was your weekend?” I'd ask, “thanks” she would say. “Hear about the storm they say is coming?” I'd ask. “thanks” she'd say. During the rest of my day I likely wouldn't talk to anyone. My phone wouldn't ring, and if I received any texts they'd invariably be a "special offer!" from telstra.

   The beehives were mostly among the cane fields. Twenty-one trailers full of beehives, parked in twos and threes surrounded by solid walls of sugarcane like a hedge maze. It's rather like giant grass, like perhaps you've been shrunk to the size of a bee yourself. Then they burn it and cut it and suddenly you're working in open space ... for a few more weeks until it's back to where it was. In some places the fields are bordered by impassably thick forest, in which insects make a constant loud buzz like high tension wires. There was a bird that made a sound so much like someone whistling for your attention that I would turn around every time. There'd just be a four foot goanna giving me a wry look from the scrub as if to say, as if there's anyone else here.

   Twenty-four beehives per trailer. Five hundred hives altogether. Approximately thirty million bees. Commercial beekeeping smells of diesel and is caked mud on your boots. It is hard work in the hot sun. It is working for crotchety salty bosses as you slowly become one yourself. And yes, it is getting stung. A lot. My predecessor in this job had to leave after he lost his eye and half his sanity. I'm told he's still sighted around town on occasion, randomly, like a restless ghost.

   My boss, the farm owner, if I may be so bold as to conjure an Australian legend, reminded me of Steve Irwin -- he had the same short boxy stature, the same exuberance, except in this case rather than for animals and conservation his enthusiasm was entirely directed toward profitably growing vegetables, and everything he'd say was peppered with the most shockingly profane analogies. I'd give you an example dear reader but you'd be unable to sleep for the next three days trying to work out if it were anatomically possible. Despite being one of the largest vegetable growers in the Bundaberg area, I have never seen him wear shoes. I generally got along with him fine, but he had this unnerving propensity to appear like an unholy genie the moment anything went wrong despite his properties being spread over thirty kilometers. Someone rear ends my work ute? Oh there's Trevor coming around the corner. Ute gets stuck in the mud in a paddock, oh look Trevor is just coming along.

   A tropical storm (ex-cyclone ozwald) rolled through, amd for three days I could do nothing but watch the pounding rain on the windows, and the road in front of my house flowing like a river. Listening to the news I learned the entire area was flooding; in Bundaberg the water was over the roof of the grocery store, and 17 helicopters worked overnight to evacuate 7000 people from roofs. My seaside community of Moorpark Beach had become an island. Then the power went out and I had no more news, just rising water around me. Quite disconcertingly, in the middle of the night I was jarred awake by my smoke alarm going off, but it was merely because the battery had died. When I finally awoke to a beautiful sunny morning I called Trevor to see how things were going but he informed me the water was still then rising around his house and he was at the moment standing waist deep in it trying to rescue what he could, and sure enough, despite the sunny weather the water continued to rise over the next three days, and all we could do on the now-island of Moorpark Beach was stroll around and collect coconuts on the beach, since the ocean itself had become contaminated with all the outflow.
   Every evening I would walk out to where I could see what used to be the surrounding cane fields and road to Bundaberg, now a vast inland sea, to confirm I was still on an island and wouldn't have to get up for work in the morning. As it happens, when the waters finally fell it fell all at once overnight and I was caught off-guard at 6am with someone pounding on my door, I jumped out of bed to answer it and there was Trevor, shoe-less as always, and barely had he expressed that the waters had receded than his eye hit upon the smoke alarm hanging open and he immediately launched in on a truly remarkable feat of extemporaneous composition with an extremely creative story about how without my smoke alarm working my house was going to catch fire, and burn down, and I would die, and the fire brigade would arrive but they wouldn't care, and neither would he, and then they'd be burying my body, because there weren't batteries in my smoke alarm. I can't even begin to do this fascinating spontaneous piece of speculative fiction justice, I think there were several more unlikely but compelling twists in it, but I'd been awake for thirty seconds, my brain was still trying to catch up with that he was standing here before me and, what's this about a smoke alarm??

   A surreal scene was revealed in the formerly flooded lands, with tin skiffs tied to telephone poles miles from the sea, and a house in the middle of an intersection in Bundaberg north. I found dead fish on the ground all around my beehives, and a waterline on the trailer wheels, but by stunning good fortune the hives themselves had survived. I do tend to, without even thinking about it, locate beehives on rises so they have a maximally clear line of sight to the surrounding countryside, and this may have inadvertently saved them all.

   After this interlude it was right back to sixty hour weeks in the “bee mines.” Even in summer, sometimes the sun was already setting by the time I'd be headed home. Around 5pm, already the forests were bathed in a warm golden light slanting in from the side. The sun sets over the sea of sugarcane as a giant orangish-red fireball. If I was running the honey extracting machinery I wouldn't emerge from the corrugated metal extracting shed until after 11pm, whereupon I come into the fresh night air covered from head to foot in honey, to find the world illuminated by the moon as if by a floodlight. Just the cane fields and the metal shed under the moon and stars, I'd contemplate it could be a hundred years earlier and it would look the same.

   At night the narrow muddy tracks amid the cane truly do feel like a labyrinth. When I get home to my empty house, if I were to go online all my friends back home in California have long since gone to bed, so I'd often make myself something quick to eat and walk out to the beach, where I'd sit in the sand under the stars, watching the lightning on the horizon as I eat. Sometimes I'd think I had it pretty good. Sometimes I thought I might be in hell.


Known Issues:
I know the tense is still inconsistent. Though feel free to give me advice about what you think can still be kept in present tense. I seem to do better writing from scratch but trying to change the tense of an already-written piece I get bogged down in, well this whole thing is past but this was then-ongoing and/or the sun always rises so why would it be past tense etc.

(2) I know I'm using the Imperial system of measurement, this is all part of the American flavor of the piece.

(3) I know also that I don't actually say I'm from California to nearly the last line nor do I spell out much else about the location explicitly. You can tell me if you hate this style but it's how I've come to rather like to write. No one likes exposition, I'd rather fit facts in in context then slam them in, and I'd rather keep the reader piecing things together

(4) I knowingly avoided some obvious Australian slang, like the tin boats would obviously be "tinnies," but words like that just don't come naturally to me. It's a god damn tin boat not a tinny god damn your eyes.

(5) It bothers me a little bit that I have the sun set twice. But I like my start and I really liked the format of the original entry as it kind of followed my day (the biggest change from that format is I added the whole flooding incident, which had come after the original introduction was written). Also I feel like the sunset behind the mangroves from the beach and the sunset from the extracting shed are distinctly different (and hey the sun is finally setting over the sea, just a sea of sugarcane! -- actually that just occurred to me, I use the word ocean in teh first sentence I should make them both either sea or ocean ::strokes beard::). Anyway, thoughts?

Unknown Issues:
Obviously I don't know them, please let me know ;)

Pointedly Unrelated Picture:

And here's another picture by the amazing Jakub Rozalski, even though I have plenty of pictures pertinent to the above story I want you to evaluate it the way the contest judges will, without accompanying thematic photos. Also I wanted to share this picture ever since I was goingh through this guy's portfolio for last entry ;)

Addendum: Oh what do you reckon I move the second sunset to occur as I'm watching the sun set over the floodwaters that are at that point to my west, possibly with a wry comment about getting what I wished for? Maybe something more subtle, the connection must be subtle enough that some people will make the connection but I hate un-subtle things.