“Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” (Elizabeth Gilbert)
I’m sitting here feeling a bit excited. I can’t remember if I told you that I wrote a story? An actual story. And I sent it off to a magazine. I wrote and released. And its, as they say, on newsstands now.
I’m pretty sure I’ve touched on how, for much of my life I’d been wanting to write. Ever since I was a wee girl and learned to read. And how I’ve gone to (at times) extraordinary lengths not to. I thought the urge/desire/gift/vision to write meant I had to write a novel. From start to finish, all in order, perfectly formed. Boom. I knew I couldn’t do that, so I didn’t do anything, because, if I can’t do something perfectly first off, then I’d best not do it at all. Right?
So the years rolled by, filled with diversions and drugs and dodgy adventures and all sorts of crazy shit along the way. I always had a book on the go, reading my way through the madness. And I didn’t write. I took avoidance to the next level in an unskilful attempt to keep me ‘safe’ from feelings. There was a time in the 70’s when I made a conscious decision not to write anything down. That lasted several years. No postcards or letters to family and friends to let them know where I was in the world, that I was alive. No pen to paper. Nothing. It was too much of a commitment and was afraid of commitment.
When I unwillingly ended up in rehab in 1987, I was required to write. As part of treatment they wanted us writing every fucking day. I railed against it, said they didn’t understand, others may be able to, but not me, no, I couldn’t. They’d heard it all before and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer so I eventually complied. And it didn’t kill me. I kind of enjoyed it.
Turned out the writing was a great re-connector – it brought me home – so I began regularly writing pages (for my eyes only) in the mornings. I noticed my handwriting was loosening up and that felt liberating. I’d been hung up on ‘correct’ penmanship since the nuns had taught me handwriting, using repetition and threats. The look needed to be ‘perfect’, in case someone saw it. To hell with the content. If it didn’t look right then I had to biff it and begin again. Impression management can be a bitch. There’s no room left for creativity or spontaneity.
With a few years of recovery under my belt, I was getting braver. Courage is acting in spite of fear, so I took a risk and enrolled in a ‘Creative Writing’ course at Auckland University and attended regularly and did what was required. I remember and appreciate our beloved teacher and wonderful author, David Lyndon Brown, and have no recollection of anything I wrote or who else was in the class.
A few years ago I began meeting with a group of people so I could learn how to manage money and in so doing, learned about debting behaviour. Turns out it wasn’t just about the money. As the fog began clearing around the money stuff and I learned to live within my means, I noticed people were also speaking about discovering a vision and the importance of naming it. Like I said, I’ve known for a long time what mine was/is and I’d chosen to ignore it.
Then I read this. “Ignoring or denying our vision, like ignoring or denying our feelings, takes its toll. Not being true to oneself might even be called a kind of self-debting. For some it may manifest in physical symptoms – or in depression, anger, anxiety, irritation, restlessness”. Well, that got my attention. I wanted to be true to myself. That’s what recovery is all about. So, despite years of habit, I began verbalising the vision, my vision. And my fellows encouraged and supported me to take the next step.
Well, how to begin? I was still writing the free form morning pages and wanted to do something more structured. Something I needed to knock into shape. Something that others could see and perhaps, relate to and enjoy. I was wondering what action I needed to take, what form it could take, and the idea came to write a blog. Bite sized pieces written then released to the wilds of the internet. Although I knew nothing about blogging I knew this would be good practice. So I began the blog posts and I’ve written a few and I’ve (mostly) enjoyed them. The writing enlivens me. It’s fun creating and putting an idea together in a shape and size and rhythm that is pleasing. The habit of avoidance has not gone anywhere. It’s still the default position. Still trying to keep me from harm. I recognise and appreciate it and can take care not to stay there.
One day a story came to me and I decided to sit down and begin to write. It is set in London in 1977. A vignette from a past life. I enjoyed remembering the people and the places and was surprised how much came back to me. Details of where I lived, what people were wearing, how they spoke, what drugs we were taking, how I was feeling, came clearly into focus. I was surprised by the access to the information as I thought my memories had disappeared into the blur and blackout that was a large chunk of my previous life.
During the writing of “Tangled up in Blue”, it came to me it could possibly be a good fit for the Phantom Billstickers Café Reader, a topical and edgy literary ‘zine. Trusting that thought, I decided to give it a go and checked out how to go about it, sent it in for submission, and let go of the outcome. I knew I could be present to, and care for the feelings generated by a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’. And, guess what, it was accepted for publication. And it’s out this week. A story in print. Exciting.
And then there’s this. I read young women writers, such as the wonderfully talented Ashleigh Young’s essays in ‘Can You Tolerate This?’ And parallel with thanking the baby lord jesus beings such as she are writing and teaching, I feel a sadness, a loss, for the young woman writer I could’ve perhaps been. Could I have been one of the brave few who have taken the plunge and followed their vision and gone to Victoria University or MIT, immersing in the literature and the writing and the conversations and being part of a creative crew? I have no answer. Owning the loss of what might have been, is enough.
So now I have another story on the go. This one is set in the early 70’s in the Pink Pussycat in Kings Cross. I used to work there. I’m doing the research and playing around with the content and structure. And I’m signed up for a writing course next month and aim to develop this with the support of others, getting feedback as I go. Shit’s getting real.
My vision is to write five short stories in 2017.