It was a hot summer here on the North Coast of NSW. Day after day the sun shone bright. I spent a large part of each day sitting on the couch under the fan, windows wide open— to catch every breeze. It was most tolerable.
It ended up being a perfect summer to stay indoors and complete a collection of short memoir pieces that I had started many years ago. Every morning I sat with my laptop, engrossed for hours… until I’d suddenly notice that my body was stiff and that I felt spent. That was then enough for the day.
Last night I read in ‘Upstream’ by Mary Oliver, ‘The labour of writing poems, of working with thought and emotion in the encasement (or is it wings?) of language is strange to nature, for we are first of all creatures of motion.’
Not that I am a poet or write all that much but the little I do, feels just like, ‘the encasement of language’…. and the wings. It seems to me the most restrictive and the most soaring thing to be engaged in.
I was going well for weeks, looking forward to my place on the couch… until I hit the road block of resistance and the boulder of reluctance. I got around them by sensing their size and shape. I saw that a part of me did not want to finish this writing project. The memoir writing desire had been with me for so long—for more than twenty years. At times it had been my light beam, my comfy blanket, imagined assurance of better things to come and had given me some reassurance of permanence… even a sense of existence. I had written copious notes, collected words, photos, bits of research held in various folders and boxes labelled ‘memoir’. In all things memoir I was a hoarder and very attached to my bits and pieces. Who was I going to be without my ‘stuff’. Sensing that attachment, it dissolved and the track was clear again.
My impulse and intentions for writing these stories has changed over the years. At first, my short stories were a way to assuage homesickness—to remember what had passed and to maintain connections to the place I came from. When I continued them many years later, I wrote to understand causes and conditions for painful emotions and a troubled inner life. I believed that if I could write about the past I’d understand it and maybe, just maybe, it would transform into precious matter. Like in the fairly tale, Rumpelstiltskin, where the maiden was asked to spin straw into gold—something as common as straw into something precious—the ancient desire for alchemy.
Well, some alchemy has taken place because the writing process itself is different now. It is not a means to an end but rather an activity that I am discovering in myself. Words arise, they flow this way and that, making all sorts of connections. They like exploring new combinations and little byways. They seem like a heart making new arteries. In this process my material is being shaped and re-shaped all the time. Sometimes too much and the mess gets to me. Sometimes I would like it if the words and ideas behaved like soldiers that I could command to the finish line.
I am not quite there yet. Patience. Soon though. I have emptied most of my folders into the recycle bin. Ready to be with the living in this present day—until the old urge to remember and tell my story tugs at me again.