The River of Regret with Ernest Tubb

Ernest Tubb sang “River of Regret” in 1959.

For reasons only a psychoanalyst could clearly state, I don’t seem able to get this book finished. I have promised to send it out to the family members who are mentioned in it for their comments and permission to use their real names. I have asked the designer to stand by to do the covers. I have promised myself it is #1 on the priorities list. But no matter what I do I just can’t get it to a point where I can send it out.

The biggest issue has been endlessly rewriting the first chapter. I realise this is because I don’t really know what I want to project in this so-important introductory bit. I have been struggling between two positions: a kind of grovelling excuse-seeking for having been such a dreadful mother and partner and sister and daughter (and probably everything else) all my life and not having realised it, and the desire to say look here, you guys, I was doing my best! I came from another era! I had a miserable confused childhood just like everybody else who was born close to World War 2! And I think I worked incredibly hard and tried everything to keep the show on the road. If it didn’t turn out so well for you all, I am sorry, but I can’t go to my afterlife taking all the blame! I couldn’t be a perfect person. What a surprise! But I guess I am still regretting that.

If my emotions throughout 2018 seemed unstable, the beginning of 2019 has been even worse. Maybe writing a memoir was not the best idea, under the circumstances. A part of me wants to just forget about it right now, today, put the project aside and go back to painting my landscapes and writing about art. Of course none of it makes the slightest bit of difference and it is dawning on me that nobody, I mean nobody, cares in the least what I write or don’t write. It is, to follow my perpetual aqua-marine metaphorical inclination, all just water under the bridge. Or to quote my recent favourite ballad:

And instead of being someone with the world to win
I’m just driftwood on the river of regret.

This is from a song sung by Ernest Tubb in 1959. The original version is on Youtube here – I think I worked out how to embed a song in a post – always something new to learn!

As this song seems so completely apposite to my memoir I set about finding out how to get permission to use these two lines as opening quote in Regret Horizon. What a fascinating business this copyright stuff is. I will write a post about it when I have an outcome.

Meanwhile I’ll just keep on drifting with Ernest Tubb and try to take the deeper philosophical meanings on board.

And so another year …

Yes, it has been a long time since I last wrote here. So much has happened. I have filled up three diaries already and it isn’t over yet. My first book of the memoirs project Regret Horizon seemed to disappear over the Regret Horizon and into the mists of past time. Where I thought this was a final volume, turns out there will need to be at least one more, to take us from the end of Regret Horizon to the actual genuine real end, and we know there will be one. It is one which I can foresee and expect but cannot know when it will arrive, or how it will turn out. Most estimate a few years, but anything can happen. I will write a post or two about this very strange experience when I can, next year probably. And maybe I’ll be writing the actual volume by then.

But here is the good news. I have finished revision of the two books of short stories, Keith has done the covers for the ebooks (still finalising the print books) and all going well they should be available in early November through Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as other ebook retailers and in paperback through Ingram Spark. You can order from your local bookstore if you are in Australia and hopefully there will be a Paypal button on this site at least. Website orders for customers in Australia only.

And Regret Horizon is nearly finished too. I am going to have a special order made from a local printer on quality paper for signed orders and my own gifts and maybe the local independent bookstores will stock some as well. I had such a struggle knowing what to do about getting feedback from the people in it, but finally I decided to give up on that and let the cards fall where they may. Still thinking about the final cover, now it looks pretty boring next to Keith’s fabulous cover art for the short stories (below).

So I guess this is a kind of pre-launch announcement. Congratulations to me – but there is still a way to go before I can push the “publish” button.

Final cover images for Revolutionary Baby and Radiant Sands, September 2019.
Copyright Keith Draws/Annette Hamilton

Regretting “Regret Horizon”

Honestly and truly, I don’t know what led me to think I could write this memoir, edit it and publish it by the beginning of 2019. Now it is almost May and I have so far only managed to edit and rewrite the first opening chaper – or maybe it’s a Forward – about a hundred times. Now I realise I have to write an Afterward. Or is it an Afterword? Both, I guess. So I have spent weeks angsting about whether or not to send the current draft out for comments but I haven’t done it. Indecision and procrastination rule.

Meanwhile all I can think about is photography and painting. I said I would do that this year but it still hasn’t led to any actual paintings either. Of course the memoir and the photographs are producing interesting interactions but the overlapping memory-work is exhausting. Has anybody written a good account of the interior state of writers as they get to the end of a project? If so, please let me know asap! I think Gaspar Melchios was having a few doubts about the wisdom of the thing.

Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a Spanish writer depicted with the tools of the trade.

Memoir Therapy: 977 Days with Somali Pirates

German/American journalist and writer Michael Scott Moore had authored a novel and a history of surfing, Sweetness and Blood, when he received a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting to carry out research for a book on Somali piracy in late 2011.

Somali Pirates use bizarrely wrecked boats

This is the kind of thing even a truly daft anthropologist wouldn’t try, but he seems to have had an even greater degree of belief in his own invulnerability.

Since Somali pirates are famous for capturing Westerners and holding them for ransom it is hardly surprising that it happened to him. He got there around November and was abducted in January 2012. The pirates posted video clips which you can still find on Youtube. He was kept in isolation, virtually blind without his contact-lenses, half-starved and increasingly desperate.

The pirates said if the ransom wasn’t paid he would be sold to Al-Shabab. Nobody could come up with the $20 million they wanted, not even his mother,  his only real advocate and supporter. They settled in the end for $1.6 million and to his own amazement he was released.

Not surprisingly he wrote a memoir about his experience. The English version, The Desert and the Sea, published in July 2018, became a Nielsen best-seller.

It has just been published in German as  Wir Werden Dich Toten: 977 Tage in der Hand von Piraten (“We Will Kill You: 977 Days Held by Pirates”). Scott Moore lives in Berlin and holds dual US/German citizenship. I caught his interview on Deutsche Welle  in February 2019 where he appears incredibly normal and unaffected – cool, calm, handsome, unlined, slightly grey, smiling.

Scott Moore interview

In the first months he believed that the ransom would be paid. As time passed he realized this was not going to happen. He was deeply scarred by the ordeal, which dragged on and on, as he was held sometimes on land and sometimes at sea on a beaten-up tuna boat along with other unfortunate captives mostly impoverished fishermen.

I liked his views on hope. We are always being told to stay hopeful, that hope is a positive and beneficial state of mind. Scott Moore concluded otherwise.  As things unfolded his early optimism was destructive, making everything later more terrible.

Writing his book made him feel much much better. He was able to stand back and understand himself as an object. One might say he was able to observe himself as a participant.  He didn’t experience Stockholm Syndrome, where captives come to identify with their captors. Nevertheless he had to forgive them which is another thing we are always being told to do to have a happier life. He finished up running a yoga class for selected pirates and yes, he’s originally from California.

Captivity memoirs can have a strange effect. We are invited to identify with the captive, to share an unbearable experience where everything a person has known and been suddenly is taken away and turned upside down, where their comfortable former existence is overthrown. But you have to ask why the writer or journalist or researcher deliberately goes into such danger. Is it his/her own deluded sense of self? It’s not quite the same as someone kidnapped and imprisoned for political reasons, say, or as part of some psychopath’s personal fantasy.

But in another way, everybody’s life can at times feel like sudden (or slowly developing) captivity.  How much memoir-writing is really therapy? All of it? The more I have been reading, thinking about and writing memoirs, the more the link between writing and trauma has come into focus. Maybe if writing is an attempt at trauma recovery it explains why it’s so damned difficult.

Mostly older people write memoirs. Apart from politicians and a few captains of industry there aren’t that many of them, and I am beginning to see why. If life itself is a traumatic experience, beginning full of hope and happy expectation but declining into failure and disappointment as the end looms, writing about it may only make you feel even more sorry for yourself.  No wonder young people prefer fantasy and adventure.

On the other hand, I recall reading Bert Facey’s recollection, A Fortunate Life, published in 1981 when he was 86. It has been a best-seller in Australian writing, with almost a million copies sold. His early life was traumatic beyond any contemporary imagining, but he came out of it with nothing but gratitude and peace and wrote a wonderful book. A great role model, almost completely forgotten today. That’s a memoir to remember!

Copyright: for and against

In my last post I mentioned that I was seeking permission to use two lines from a country and Western song sung by Ernest Tubb in 1959 as an opener for my memoir. I still haven’t heard anything back from the copyright holders, a large transnational organisation which holds copyright on a huge number of songs.

This has led me to further musings on copyright as a concept and practice. There are many countries in the world which appear to have no copyright laws or if they do, they don’t enforce them especially if the writing being used comes from somewhere else. Imagine my surprise a couple of decades ago to find my book Nature and Nurture published in a Third World country, in English and pretty much in full although without the photographs and someone else’s name on the cover. But somehow there seemed a rightness to that. The book is unobtainable anywhere as the Australian publishers never republished it, and made no effort to make it available anywhere outside Australia. Practically no libraries in the world hold it. This of course was before self-publishing. If people somewhere else want to read my book, this was a way of doing it, and did it matter that much who was the author?

These libertarian thoughts are very much outside the frame today. Everyone is so precious about their rights over a few sentences that whole books can be pulped for some minor bit of plagiarism. You are legally vulnerable even where the copyright holders don’t answer queries or have gone out of business. This, in an era when visual and written information can be circulated as never before.

Copyright is an issue quite apart from libel and privacy breaches. My inability to finish Regret Horizon is in large part due to my anxieties over privacy issues which remain unresolved.

I wonder how much one would have to change the text to claim that those two lines were no longer subject to copyright? I’ll play with that idea, but somehow it just wouldn’t be the same.

Regret Horizon: the Memoir

So my memoir of the year my mother and my ex-husband died is almost finished. Procrastinating about sending it out to the family and trying to do the final edits. Every time I open the file I find myself making changes, not just a few, but a lot. I still don’t feel clear about it. And the question of the title has been holding things up. From the start, the working title was A Dying Year. Feedback? Oh, that sounds so sad/distressing/upsetting. And who is dying? Is it you? Is this yet another PityParty by someone on the way out? No, no, not that! Well, what then?

So it got a new title, and a new slant, because I realised by the time I had finished the penultimate draft that my main feeling about everything was my awfulness, and how much I still don’t understand, and how much I feel regret for what I had done and not done in those last few months.

Somehow water, rivers and seas, threaded through everything I felt throughout the process of writing this book. So when I found Jordan Cantelo’s wonderful photograph, “Ocean Horizon”, it spoke to me profoundly. Jordan gave me permission to use it for the cover, and asked for no payment, which was truly generous of him. I love his work. I will write something more about it later.

Draft cover: Regret Horizon.

Memoir: to publish or perish?

I am very close now to getting the memoir finished. Here’s the draft cover. There are a few different variants. Keith my designer will finalise it. I am so grateful to talented Western Australian photographer Jordan Cantelo for his generous permission to use his photograph Ocean Horizon for the cover image. Visit his site to see more of his outstanding work at http://jordancantelo.com/

The title has changed to Regret Horizon and there are several reasons for that. I sent a semi-final version to one of the main characters in the book and she read it twice in a few days and came back with a lot of changes. She said I’d got quite a few things “wrong”. Some were factual things, some were more interpretations and opinions. But it threw me. How far do I have to go to include the views of the people I am writing about? They are all real people with their own points of view and their own desires and hopes in terms of how they might appear in someone’s book, especially when it’s their own mother/grandmother/partner/ex-partner’s wife/sister and so on. I’m so close to publishing this book, but equally close to abandoning the project altogether. I’m going to wait until I get some other comments and feedback, meanwhile I’m in Procrastination City.

New Year’s Resolution: open an Instagram account. At least I’d feel I was doing something. Got some great photos since New Year’s Day so I’ll be seeing you or rather you won’t be seeing me but you’ll be seeing what I see. Which, in a way, is what a Memoir really is all about.