The writing post

©careerusinterruptus

When I was in Senior, Bruce Dawe visited my school, to talk about being a poet. It was the first time I’d ever met an actual author and I was nearly sick with the thrill of it. (Got a lot of funny looks from my classmates, whose excitement, such as it was, stemmed mainly from the fact that they were sort of getting out of double English.) I couldn’t speak; I wanted to be a writer so badly, I didn’t even know where to start, so although I was exploding with questions, not a single one of them came out. Afterwards, Mum dragged us off to a shopping centre where I followed her around crying my eyes out, I was so disappointed in myself for having missed such an opportunity. (Funny looks from my siblings, then.) An opportunity for what, exactly, I didn’t know, only that I felt I’d missed something crucial.

33 years later, the one thing I really remember Dawe saying, was in response to a question from one of the teachers. He didn’t have an office, he said. He wrote at the kitchen table, with the kids and the wife busy, chatting, working around him and the dog at his feet. And, he thought that made him a better writer. Closer, more in touch, with the things he was trying to grasp.

That really struck me. Until then, I’d nurtured lonely-writer-in-a-freezing-garrett type images of my future. One of my uncles, dead before I came along, had written a few books, and I’d fallen deeply in love with his little writing cubby, an open shack no more than three square metres, on the bank of a rushing stream, down the hill from the family home in the Blue Mountains.

That was what I always wanted. (There were six humans and a dog in my childhood family and I’m an introvert; I wanted it hard.) Dawe showed me that things could be different, that what you could still write beautifully in the midst of chaos.

And it’s just as well I learned that, because if I couldn’t write in chaos, these days, I would simply never write, and writing is as essential to me as breathing. Don’t get me wrong, I would dearly love a less chaotic space to work in. It’s just that writing is more important. Choosing writing over housework takes no thought; I would and often do choose writing over nearly every other aspect of self-care, because it is so good for me. Writing takes me somewhere else. It simplifies, gives me a tiny space where I am, actually, in control. Above all it relieves the pressure of the words swirling incessantly in my head, and believe me when I say there’s a fucking lot of them. A week in a spa – a month of meditating – a year of yoga, couldn’t do as much for me as a day spent writing.

So if that table – swamped as it is by craft mess that the kids and I create, pencil shavings and fabric scraps underfoot, the piano at my back, Mr Pixel placing blocks or whatever it is he does to my right, a view of the empty supply cupboard and the garden ahead – if that’s the only space to write in, well, then, by god that’s where I’m gonna write.

The lovely thing I’ve learned, is that even with all that, with the TV and the cat, the chooks and the kids (one of whom chatters constantly, sometimes to the chooks, while watching TV), is that if I allow myself to cock my ear, to take a breath, exhale, and listen, the stories are always right there. All I have to do is tune in.

So, this year I finally finished the novel I started when I was pregnant with Mr Pixel. Yeah. 13 years. And although sleep deprivation took me on a very long detour via Utter Rubbish and the bog of Badly Written, I think it ended up somewhere a bit better, after all. I sent it off to a competition, anyway, a thing that crossed my feed about one day after I joined a romance writers’ group. I doubt anything will come of it, but you know. The point is that I did something with my writing, for the first time.

And then, amazingly, I started the next one, because I’ve been carrying these characters in my head for so long, too, that as soon as I was ready, out they popped, doing what they need to do. I easily caught two chapters on the laptop in the picture and even now, today – in a different writing space, writing something else altogether, I can dimly hear the sentences unfurling, as though the characters were just in the next room.

It’ll be Christmas in a couple days. I’ve still got shopping and wrapping and cooking to do and yes, cleaning, too. I’ll work in the garden and help CraftyFish with the impossible puzzle she’s doing, and spend time with Mum. The Skeptic and I have some urgent budgeting to do, and the garage needs to be cleaned out. But in between all that, in hours and half hours, here and there, I’ll keep writing. It’s who I am.

It ain’t much but it’s all I got

Yesterday, in his strenuous efforts to avoid writing a story, Mr Pixel found and watched a video on wealth inequality in America.

Ten hours later he still knew all the figures: 15.1% living below the poverty line; 1% who hold 40% of America’s wealth; the vast disparity between what people think is happening and what is actually happening, let alone the ideal that 92% of respondents voted for. He’s outraged.

We are not American; we do not live in America.

There is no reason on God’s green earth why he should have watched that video; he did, he said, because he’s a curious bird. (Mo Willem’s phrase has much life in our house. Or to put it another way – Hello, intellectual over-excitability!)

There are, on the other hand, a stack of reasons why he should’ve been writing a story: he’d had a great time in class, collaborating with other, similarly-humored kids to come up with the four characters they were supposed to write about; a genre he’s more than familiar with; a teacher he adores who in turn adores him; the plan that she’d collect all their stories, type them and bind them, so each kid would see their work ‘in print’ and also see how others had explored the same basic idea. Since he ran out of puff and needed to leave before they’d begun writing, the teacher said she’d look forward to receiving his story by email, any time until late the next night. You really can’t ask for better support than that.

But none of it – not the class craic, the amazing teacher connection, the flexible deadline, the reward of a bound printout – is enough to motivate Mr Pixel over the hill of anxiety that stops him writing. Because that is what it is: he freezes like a rabbit in the spotlight of having to make a choice out of the multitude of possibilities and he just. Can. Not.

We talked about perfectionism and how there’s no wrong answer; we talked about the fact that he’s able, if he’d give it a go. (I’ve read about dysgraphia; I don’t think that’s it, but then last night someone on a forum said something that’s sent me back down that rabbit-hole, so watch this space.) Besides the anxiety, there’s a great deal of genetic stubborn here (which if you ask me, he owns far too proudly): for eight years now, he’s consistently maintained that he doesn’t do writing, and so far nobody’s been able to budge that for more than a sentence or two. Scribing, voice-to-text, story prompts: they’ve all been flat-out rejected. He knows what I’m up to and he’s not having a bar of it.

I can’t tell you how nuts this makes me. The point-blank refusal sends me nuclear. Every time I hear ‘no’, I’ll be honest, there’s a reflexive bit of me that wants to reach for my Momma badge, the one that says DAMMIT, I AM IN CHARGE. There are so many good reasons to try and make him do it. Not least, the insult is galling: I’m smart enough, you’d think I could fix this.

But I’ve learned that that is my problem. Making it a power play turns it into a fight, which means he’s not writing. And writing is the goal, is it not?

So we played a bit with Google docs. We wrote each other questions and answers; he wrote a couple of lines about a fat, dumb gamer who met a Ninja who helped him defeat someone who wanted to win a tournament. Needless to say none of that bore any relevance to the assignment and after about fifteen minutes he was over it and quit.

But you know what? I’m counting it as a win. I’m gonna go ahead and celebrate because in that short process he did plenty of rewriting and self-editing. I am shouting it to the skies because it’s the closest he’s ever come to writing a story and even in two sentences his sense of humour shone through and really, truly, that’s all I want: my kid to learn to overcome his anxiety and learn to express himself.

In fact, since he learned something about wealth inequality in America, too, I’m counting it as two wins. The class about statistics is another thing he wouldn’t do, but left to his own devices he stumbled onto it anyway and the conversations have begun. I’m reading up and ready to talk.

Because this is Mr Pixel’s wiring: anxious and stubborn and avoidant as all hell, and yet burning relentlessly away underneath all that is the insatiable need to know. In our house, this is what gifted looks like.