Lynnette Lounsbury interviewed me...

Interview with Lynnette, a dear friend and accomplished author.

charlotteoneill

Tell us a little of your own story…

I grew up in the Northern Rivers region, between Lismore and Byron. I went to Avondale College after leaving school and ended up working at Avondale School before moving north again and finding work on the Gold Coast. Now I work at a wonderful multi-denominational school called Emmanuel College, and live in a wood cabin in the Gold Coast hinterland where I can run, hike, get excellent coffee… the basics of life. I recognise how blessed I am, because this is pretty much exactly what I envisioned three years ago as I was leaving College.

What does your perfect day look like?

At this point, with the pressure of a full time job, a perfect day is one without 9-5 work. I would lay in the sun, eat a ton of good food, have time to write and not be annoyed at pedestrians crossing too slowly on the sidewalk on my commute home. Recently I read David Foster Wallace’ ‘This is Water’ (which I highly recommend for anybody soon to graduate uni!). It’s about stepping outside of yourself every day, and not viewing the world through your own jaded, perpetually self-oriented lens.

Why poetry? What does poetry do to you?

I grew up writing totally unreadable love poetry all over my Maths exams. When I was fourteen, I showed a poem that at the time I thought was dramatic and yet subtle (stars, love, boy’s eyes… etcetera) to my favourite teacher. He said that passion often takes from our ability to write without agenda but it gives us life. It was a backhanded compliment, but it stuck with me. A lot of what I write has a clear agenda – sometimes, it’s peace, but other times it is to draw attention to flaws or elements of society that pain me. Its highly subjective. I’m okay with that, and it is one of the reasons I enjoy the medium of poetry. However, to me it is more than a subjective, artful writing form – it allows me to link ideas together in a way that can be misinterpreted, reinterpreted and read into in a myriad of different ways. People can interpret a poem the way they need. It may not be the most academic response, but I can’t remember the last time I read a truly academic poem and went away wanting to change the world.

How would you describe your style?

Very much free verse, although I like to experiment with rhyme and rhythm. I’m more interested in recurrent metaphors and imagery. I like the fact that there isn’t really any such thing as a perfect poem. It’s as much about meaning as form.

Who are your literary influences? Your life inspirations?

Luka Lesson is a massive inspiration to me, his free-flowing verse that uses imagery to create meaning is so powerful, and totally accessible… and it’s hip-hop. Eminem and Bob Dylan are both literary inspirations to me, in the way they tie together human ideas. Most of my inspirations are not poets.

You talk about The Bones arising out of dark times, what does that mean for you?

Since I graduated uni I’ve experienced a number of deaths of people very dear to me which have devastated my family, and suffered a bit of a nervous breakdown myself due to personal circumstances. I’ve also lived closely with a family member afflicted with severe bipolar, and holding somebody back from the brink of suicide puts a lot of things into and out of perspective. Not everybody will relate to or understand The Bones, but I believe in exorcising dark ideas, putting them on a page and deciding if they are worthwhile. So while the book is about death and pain and grief, it is also very much about hope and power.

Which is your favourite piece in the book?

Burn it. All of it. Burn the hate and greed. Burn the selfishness and the carelessness. Burn the longing and the dissatisfaction and the Regret. On great wood pyres, burn the pyres too and the footings and let the sparks light your way as you run, don’t look back. Don’t look back at the melting debris or the greying ash, run until the smoke no longer clouds your vision and fresh grass is brushing your feet. Make a funeral of your distrust and apathy, and walk on.

Tell us about the writing of the book – your process.

It actually only took about 6 months. It was purely inspiration-based, I just couldn’t stop writing poetry. However this isn’t usual for me. I find that writing isn’t any different to musicianship or any other art form. Often people think writers have to be inspired, but it is actually just a matter of practice. Five years ago I couldn’t sit down and just know that I would be able to write, whereas now it comes naturally whenever I have the time. I fit it around teaching, and find that the stress of having to work around a full time job is very motivating!

What is next in your writing?

I’m currently working on a book manuscript about a physicist stuck inside his own mind. He journeys to the country and encounters his father’s death, which is really the centre point of his whole story. I believe that death marks epochal points in our lives by which we often centre ourselves. Often our first encounter of death is what pushes us to understand life more deeply and provide reasons to exist.

Where can we buy Then the bones blossomed?

My publisher’s website, here http://www.vividpublishing.com.au/charlotte/ is the easiest place to order the book.

First published on https://wp.avondale.edu.au/communication/2018/09/16/a-manifesto-for-tomorrow-from-our-grad-charlotte-oneill/?fbclid=IwAR1uLKRD1Xvtis5ZJ6d2GI6b-fZwGLqMxNh17j7kRxj7sI2Y3gNwx75xBfw

First published on https://wp.avondale.edu.au/communication/2018/09/16/a-manifesto-for-tomorrow-from-our-grad-charlotte-oneill/?fbclid=IwAR1uLKRD1Xvtis5ZJ6d2GI6b-fZwGLqMxNh17j7kRxj7sI2Y3gNwx75xBfw

On a hill far away... on exorcism, and all her subsidiaries.

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On a hill far away

Stood an old rugged cross

The emblem of suffering and shame

The words of that old song are burned against my brain. A hill far away (somewhere I can never be) an old rugged cross (the epoch of dead and unreachable safety) the emblem of suffering and shame (oh yeah… and now we start to get relevant).

It's been years, and I still can't get the cross out of my system. That ever distant epoch of unreachable safety. That emblem of suffering, shame that's been burned into my brain (my shame though - not gods). Millenia away from the cross and it still haunts me, taunts me, makes me feel like somewhere there's a place where I can be holy and true. But the cross I bear instead is the one I've found myself: the cross of bearing my own sin. Let me tell you, owning your evil is far harder than throwing it at the foot of a cross. It can make a sepulchre out of you. Or it can make you strive to be the only kind of holy a person can be: true.

Until now, I haven't written about the cross, or the spirit, or my own abandonment of hope that has given way to a different kind of peace. One that doesn't sway so rapidly between lost and forgiven. God, I remember days as a teenager where I could go from lost to forgiven between breakfast and lunch, and back again before dinner. Now my hasty thoughts and human fallibility are my own. And the greatest thing is that I am no more or less redeemed than anybody else.

Not that the sense of relief I feel as been constant, or in any way sustainable. There have been whole days where I’ve cried out to the silent God of my youth. And getting a divorce at 22 certainly didn’t help my sense of shame and downright self-ridicule. I felt that I had left a man who was in many ways identifiable with my picture of God: wholesome, emotionally simple and at times unintentionally manipulative, unendingly good. A man who I worked incredibly hard to impress, and found that suddenly, I was so incredibly unimpressed with myself. An awful thing to admit: that my need to be myself trumped commitment.

And I raged and burned and wondered where the God from the cross was, the one who died and yet didn’t dirty his linen, who was wrapped in white and didn’t filthy it with excrement or blood, and at the end of death’s siege folded it gently and laid it at the foot of his pyre.

I couldn’t reconcile myself to the fact that this god had it easy. A painful death, burning with the sins of the world, with the promise of eternity to follow. Wouldn’t we all die once if we had full assurance of life? Yet somehow his sacrifice never stuck, never seemed real enough. Surely if I could have an immoral thought that would stick him up there again on the cross, burning in shame, he couldn’t be real. Who could sustain that kind of moral fortitude? Not I.

It could also be the survivor complex of the eldest child, or the misinterpretation of this sacrificial deity by one of the strictest religions in Western Christendom, or the fact that I was sexualised by Western culture too young and witnessed too much abuse, pain and grief around me for spirituality to be simple. It could be any of these things. Despite this, the cross is deeply rooted in my psyche. I have tried to exorcise her. I have begun calling gods by feminine pronouns. I have tried to find the deity within myself. I have tried to find the deity within the natural world: the closest thing I have ever found to true contentment and ‘redeeming’ love is an uncrowded stream.

Why is this so hard to write? And yet right now, I feel that to write anything else would be falsity. This has to come to the light.

Sometimes I feel like I need to be re-baptised out of the old strains of Christendom. My abandonment of church communities (much by my own doing) feels not dissimilar to the feeling of being divorced. You marry in public. You are baptised in public. At both events you are pure, washed, wearing either physically or metaphorically, white. You sign the documents. There are cheers and tears.

At your divorce, much like over the months of separation from the church, there is nobody. You don’t even need to go to court - just sign the documentation, send it away. As long as it is uncontested, all you receive is an email. It doesn’t quite feel real. Somewhere, deep down, you still feel like a married person cheating on your spouse.

It took many tear-ridden months and visits to the psychologist for me to even admit that a relationship not working doesn’t simply mean that it had to be all my fault. But it’s taking longer to believe that about my abandoned relationship with the cross.

However, I can tell you one thing. Perfect love does cast out all fear. Not the unknowable, strange love of the formidable Lord. The intimate, deep, accepting love of friends and family. That of a wet cheek against yours, of strong - REAL - arms around you that refuse to let go. As cliche as it is, that love saves.

There are people out there that have survived far more than I have. There are living victims of chemical warfare, there are refugees still fighting against seas (and worse: governments). But this is my story. And as I finish, I’m reminded of the Led Zeppelin song ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’.

Many times I’ve loved, and many times been bitten.

A fitting eulogy for the cross that splinters, breaks, falls apart inside of my chest again, and again, and again. Exorcism is not the potent force it used to be, where men held vials of water over the heads of epileptic children.

My cross, now, is shapeless. It’s taken the form of laughter and wind, of hot Summer air. It is the formless spiritual beast I suffer with and against and for in all that I do. It is everything, and the most vaporous tragedy. It is light and dark.