July 2013 archive

Barbed wire through the brain

Driving home on Thursday I saw a double
rainbow in the sky.  I took it as a good omen even though I knew it had
nothing to do with me.  I’m sick to death of this dark and gloomy winter
weather and appalled with myself for feeling so.  I should appreciate all
the seasons but this winter has been too cold – and too long – for me.
I don’t know how people do it.  How
they write books.  After a week at it I’m exhausted.  It is such an
undertaking.  There are so many different strands to tie together and all
the time the editorial voice in my head is abusing me up hill and dale for my
pathetic attempts. 
I’ve heard there are people out there who
love the process of revising their work.  I’ve heard there are those who
might struggle to get words onto the page but once the words are there they
love to spend hours polishing and refining them, dragging them into
shape.  
And then there are others who might enjoy the first rush of words
onto the page but thereafter they want nothing to do with those words
again. 
While I sat in my friend’s room in North
Melbourne trying to revise my first draft, I took time off occasionally to scour the
books on her bookshelf.  Most of them dealt with the art and craft of
writing. 
I picked up one on revision.  It was
like running a piece of barbed wire through my brain.  The writer – I did
not take in his name –  talked about the importance of revision as part of
our struggle towards perfection. 
He acknowledged perfection is an
impossibility, but he reckons the search for it is essential, to make the book
as good as we can possibly make it. 
All the time I’m tempted to flush mine
down the toilet, to give up my feeble efforts as a writer and take up knitting
or some other less onerous activity.
Why do we do it? my writer friend asked me
when I was telling her how miserable I had been feeling. 
I had hoped to write
here of a joyous week locked away writing and revising to my heart’s content,
instead I am left with a deep sense of dissatisfaction.  If only a double
rainbow could offer more consolation.  

In competition with death

This is it then.  The week I take my writing life
seriously and spend everyday at a writing retreat on my own, full time, apart
from an interruption on Tuesday when I will take a group of creative
writing students for a morning workshop. 
The rest of the week I dedicate to
my manuscript, to refining it, to pulling it apart, to dragging it together, to
getting the overall view.  Without distraction.
 A friend has offered me her writing room on the other side of town. She recognises my need to escape the distractions of home.  I will write two floors up from Helen Garner and sense the presence of other artists, not just writers, who will egg me on.  But will that be enough?
Terrified is too strong a word. My dreams tell the story.  In one I decide to tidy up my writing room.  I look around and there are
cobwebs as thick as veils.  I
decide to cull my clothes and papers and then slip into a story of my
younger self.  
I park
my car near St Ignatius church in Richmond as I have decided to go to Mass each
morning before I begin to write.  
I
sit in the front pew, my habit since childhood.  I have two heavy bags filled who loose notes and my
manuscript. I sit beside a woman dressed in her Sunday finest and a man weighed
down with age.  The priest, a famous
Australian Bob Maguire look-alike, begins his sermon and in my head the words
form;
‘What am I doing here?’
I pick up my bags and leave the
church to the shock and disgust of the woman beside me.  I look for my car but it has
disappeared.  I lose precious
writing time in search of it and before I know it I am into day two of my writing week. 

And here ends my memory of a dream that
speaks to me about my anxiety over the forthcoming week.
Last night a cold sore erupted on
my bottom lip.  Predictable I
thought.  My anxiety attacks my lip
in the form of this virus that rests there dormant most of the time.  I imagine a direct link between my
brain, my mind and all its teeming fears and the virus in my lip, like a troll
underneath a bridge waiting to pounce, the virus waits for when I am most vulnerable.  And so it is today.
There are these four precepts I
have absorbed over the years in relation to the business of writing.
The one is ‘to show up’. 
The next is ‘to tell the truth’,
not necessarily literally but certainly emotionally, if that makes sense. 
The third is ‘to pay attention to
the sensory detail’.
And the final precept, ‘to remain
unattached to the outcome’, to me is the hardest.  I think
of it as permission to write badly, but even with this idea firmly in place it’s hard to resist the demons in my head that insist on something better,
something worthwhile. 
I visited my mother last
night.  Her first words:  ‘I
think I will live to one hundred.’  She is in competition with
death. 
After several minutes of listening
to my mother repeat herself again and again, the Ground Hog Day experience of a
woman who is fast losing her memory, her short term memory, and knows it, she
told me yet again how well she feels, how young she feels, though she knows she
is old.  
And what can you expect of
someone in her nineties, but that she will slow down.  Slow down and do only what she wants. 
‘That’s why I’m so happy,’ my
mother said.  ‘Nothing worries me any more.  My body won’t let me
do the things I used to do, but I don’t mind.  Why not live till I’m one hundred?’
That’s another six years,’ I told
my mother by way of warning and reconciling myself to the thought of all those
weekly visits down the freeway.
‘But I won’t be counting every
minute,’ my mother said.  ‘Why
should I?’
Whenever my mother tells me how
free she is of anxiety, I am reminded of my own, as if we live in a parallel
universe.  One carries all the
optimism while the other shoulders its opposite.
Not that I am pessimistic, by no
means no.  But I am still able
bodied and as such I cannot declare with the same frivolity as my mother that I will only do as I please.
I climbed on top of my desk just
now to resurrect a fallen series of pictures that one of my daughters once wrote
about her life.  She was little
when she wrote it and called it ‘All about me’. 
I fear the post you have just read reads
similarly, ‘all about me’ and the long held complaint directed against the autobiographical
rises to the surface.  Narcissistic
clap trap. 
I spend my life apologising for the
things I write and then go into battle to defend them.  This will be my struggle during the next week.
Here then is a picture from the series my daughter produced ‘All about me’ taken years ago when she was just on three.  Someone had painted her face at the local school fete.  And thereby my daughter could change her identity into that of a cat for a few hours.
Oh that I could do likewise, change
my identity, not into a cat, but into a serious writer, who succeeds in her
task. 

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