From waitressing at the Golden Dragon to writing teen romances, Brigid Lowry’s road to loving kindness wasn’t always straight
A Year of Loving Kindness and Other Essays by Brigid Lowry is a beautifully presented and uplifting book of contemplative, wry, sometimes funny essays about living thoughtfully and with care amid life’s challenges. In this article, Brigid shares her winding path to becoming the warm, wise and witty writer she is today.
It is plain to see that I was destined to be a writer. A bookish, solitary, solemn child who read voraciously to escape from the chaos of her parents, I was always scribbling in notebooks, and wasn’t great with large groups of people. It’s a type, guys.
No-one said you could be a writer for a job when I was a girl. The main career choices for a woman in those days were teacher, nurse, get married, … or take typing and be a secretary.
I floated into a variety of jobs, as you will see.
Once I was a waitress at the Golden Dragon. Before that I worked in a bookshop that sold car manuals to men with greasy hands. Before that I was a hippie with a baby on my back and a diamond in my nose. Before that I was a school teacher who said, ‘Sit down, children,’ once too often. Before that I worked in the tax office sorting papers into alphabetical order and wishing it was lunchtime. Before that I bought an old Citroën and backed it into a tree and sold it all in the same week. Before that I lived on an island with a one-armed trumpet player. Before that I ran a flea circus. Before that I lived in a household of musicians, and caffeine was my drug of choice. Before that I wandered the streets of Cairo with a tattoo of a palm tree on my back. Before that I was a lonesome cowgirl and sat on a fence in a hat. Before that I lived in an attic in Sydney and could not be relied upon. Before that I cleaned motels in a seedy part of town. Before that I ran away from home on my bicycle with a satchel full of comics. Before that I was fat and happy in a white wicker pram. Before that I had a florist shop and sang to the roses. Before that I was a young girl in a photograph with mournful eyes. Before that I lived in Mexico and made sculpture out of glass. Before that I spoke seven languages and wrote love poems while sitting on a roof. Before that I played the violin for a bluegrass band, and before that I was the best scrabble player in the whole wide world.
Not all of that is strictly true, and the chronology is all wrong, but that’s fiction for you, and it contains the essence of my existence in my early days.
One day, tired of lending me money, my mother told me to get a proper job, so I went to teacher’s college to become a primary-school teacher
There I learned to play ‘Yellow Bird’ very poorly on a ukulele, so I could teach music. I learned heaps of other stuff, most of which I have forgotten. I was not a great primary-school teacher, as it turned out, though I was good at teaching beginners to read. Too creative, one headmaster said, when I did circus skills with my kids instead of multiplication tables. I was also using recreational drugs and kind of a mess at that time, to be honest, but then my life took some interesting turns. I changed countries, got straight, got married, had a son and lived in a Buddhist community for seven years, helping with childcare, running the office and cooking for retreats. More twists and turns. When we shifted to Perth, I had the worst day of my career as a relief teacher at a racist, low-morale school.
‘I won’t go back,’ I told my husband, and I meant it. Rapidly running out of career options, I enrolled at university, read a lot of fancy stuff and began to write
I wrote poetry and short fiction, based on my life and the plundered lives of others. I wrote a teenage book called Fizz and Max and Me, in the Dolly Fiction series, because my friend Wendy Jenkins had written one, and they paid you $3,000 up front, though no royalties. Then I wrote Guitar Highway Rose because I had fudged my way into a Literature Board grant with the promise of another teenage book, along with a poetry collection and a semi-autobiographical adult novel. I still haven’t produced the poetry collection or the novel, but, luckily for me, Guitar Highway Rose took off, winning prizes and selling internationally. Now I was a proper writer with an agent, a publisher, advances, royalties and invitations to writers festivals. I wrote eight YA books, one of them called Juicy Writing, which some adult writers have also found useful.
Writing YA was made easier by having a teenage son, which provided a portal into the world of young adults. I liked writing stories that had a beginning, middle and end. I liked inventing characters, writing dialogue and providing happy endings. I began teaching creative writing too, which was more fun than multiplication tables.
Sometimes poetry arrived in my brain of its own accord and gave me a place to say things I couldn’t say elsewhere: stuff you might want to say to an interesting-looking stranger on a bus but didn’t because they would think you were loony.
In my late 50s, my life took some further twists and turns, but not of a merry kind
I didn’t have any more YA books in me. I had no idea where I might be headed as a writer, or a human being, for that matter. I found myself suddenly single, changed countries again and hit a scary, desperate patch. As I gradually reinvented myself, I learned to take responsibility for my mental health. Which brings me to where I am now as a writer.
In A Year of Loving Kindness to Myself and Other Essays, I offer my thoughts about creating a peaceful and sane life. I call upon 40 years of meditation in the Zen and Vipassana traditions, and a lifetime of wisdom gathered in therapy and personal growth in my efforts not to be a complete basket case. I have tried to be like Anne Lamott, because she speaks the truth using her own life and her faith as a basis, and she is very funny. Anne is a Christian and a recovered alcoholic, and has amazing dreadlocks. None of these things apply to me, but nevertheless, I aim to emulate her skill and hopefully her massive sales.
I like writing essays and non-fiction because I can write about what interests me and what matters to me
A Year of Loving Kindness to Myself and Other Essays is my second book of essays. In my first, Still Life with Teapot: On Zen, Writing and Creativity, I offered ‘advice, observations, hope and reality checks in equal measure’. I dropped people ‘into the writer’s world, into the nuts and bolts of writing practice and into the art of life and ways to write about it. Still Life with Teapot is an essential brew for people who love to make lists, for people who love to write and for people who love to read about writing.’
That’s what it says on the internet about my book, anyway.
Here’s the beginning of the novel I may never write
A woman with a short fringe sits writing in a quiet room. She writes in a red-and-black notebook. She wears a silk kimono. She is looking backwards into her life. She will plunder it to make a book. Strange the sort of person one becomes. She seems to have become the sort of person old boyfriends remember well and write to at Christmas.
Namaste and all the best. Please buy both my books of essays, so I can be rich and famous like Anne.
A Year of Loving Kindness and Other Essays by Brigid Lowry is available in all good bookstores and online.