A strange visitation but I’m not crazy.

My earliest memory is of my parents reading me a story: narrative is my first conscious memory of the world. It’s something I treasure, and I’ve been writing stories since I could write, and telling myself stories since even before that.

About five years ago, one of these stories got serious. I was regularly catching the bus to work at the time – about a ninety-minute bus-ride either way – and I’d spend each of those one hundred and eighty minutes frantically typing away on the small blue Toshiba laptop with the conversations of suburban school children ringing over my head, creating a world, and events within it, and the characters – one in particular – who peopled it. For three hours every day, I’d inhabit that different world, a world taking shape under my fingertips and in the small universe contained by my computer.

Then everything changed. I moved, with my ex, and suddenly didn’t have a wonderfully long commute to work. Writing was something my ex begrudged me – he, not I, was the writer in the family – and it became impossible for me to write in a war-zone. Suddenly, far from having seemingly unlimited time to put into my writing, it became sneakily snatched in small, furtive moments. Attempts to prioritise my writing led to things I still don’t want to think about; the final argument about it led to my computer being smashed and hard copies of my writing torn up, right there in front of me. I put it aside, and resigned myself to the unmourned death of my writer self.

In the two years since Emancipation Day, I’ve occasionally wondered what happened to the main character, the gutsy, strong stranger I’d birthed from within my own mind. I thought about her in the past tense – like an old friend who I’d once known well, but with whom I’d lost contact, and with whom there was no chance of reconnecting. I thought of her with regret, but resignation.

And then, all of a sudden – and travelling seems to be the common denominator here – driving home from work, I found myself thinking of her, not with regretful past tense, but in the present tense. In my mind, she was out in the rain for a run, something she’d always enjoyed, found peace in. In the present tense. Then and there. Suddenly, in the weirdness of my creativity, she was alive again.

I’ve only had that one glance, and I’m a little apprehensive about the process of regaining connection with her – what if that fleeting glimpse, that fragment, is all I’ll get? But if nothing else, her sudden presence in my mind is a reminder of the indomitable nature of my creativity: yet another thing, precious and stalwart, which couldn’t be beaten out of me.

I’m grateful. And, strangely, I’m looking forward to re-acquainting myself with a person who doesn’t actually exist.

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Half or whole.

A long time ago, someone fairly brutal but also brutally honest called me half a person. It was done with the best of intentions, and it was pretty accurate, I thought, but it stung a little. She followed it up with the words “You’re all head and no heart. That’s not how you were created”.

Ouch.

Here is what I’ve realised: I’m not half a person. I’m a whole person. It’s just that, for the longest time, I’ve not particularly been in touch with half of myself. The feeling part. The intuition. The spirit, and the spirituality, of my self.

I’m probably not fully in touch with it yet. I still struggle with emotions, and I’d still prefer the dry, safe rationality which comes with being a thinking, not feeling, being. For me, the primary means of engaging the world is still the mind: I live in my head, and I always will. I value my intellect; I value my capacity to think clearly and to analyse and interpret the world around me, and my own responses to it. I value the fact that I can retreat into my head when things get tough: it’s a skill that got me through some hellish situations – beatings and assaults – and it’s a skill I know I can rely on again if I need to.

It’s not enough, though, and that’s what I’m realising. Writing the book, learning to rely on my creativity and intuition, has taught me that. The realisation that I relied on my intuition to escape my marriage has taught me that. The experiences I’ve had on my haltering forays into the realm of spiritual practice have taught me that.

I don’t like feeling. I struggle with it. I struggle with the fact that I am starting to have to sit with what was done to me, and the fear and shame and grief and anger around that. I struggle with the fact that, in the quiet of my spiritual practice, I have to sit with being what I am: a soul, nothing more or less, not hidden behind research and rationality and competence, and I have to let that be enough.

Thinking is easy, and comforting. Feeling is not. Feeling is painful, and scary, and even exuberance can bring trepidation and the shame that comes with abandoning myself to a sense of happiness that I still struggle to see that I might deserve.

But whether I like it or not, I’m a whole person, not half a person; and to be honest, life as a half-being doesn’t actually have all that much to recommend it.

It’s slightly more convenient though.

Lost and found.

I wrote the other day about the joy of playing with words, the re-capturing of the knowledge that, in fact, I am a writer. That I can choose to take delight in words, in the way they come together, in the images and feelings I can create with them, the taste of them and the colour of them in my mouth.

This morning, I found the notebook entry I’d made on that day, some of the sentences and fragments of poetry that had come together on that beautiful country drive. And, as usual, it’s been so busy that I couldn’t actually remember what I’d written – I came to it fresh, objective, with new eyes, and I actually found myself thinking: “That’s not bad!”.

It’s a good feeling.

I never used to question my identity as a writer. I was confident in it. I was confident in my capacity to work with words, in my respect for them, in their capacity and their beauty. Then I spent the better part of ten years being convinced I had no value. How could someone so stupid be a writer? How could someone so boring ever have anything worthwhile to say, let alone write for people to read? What value could anything that came from my mind possibly have? Or, how could I be so selfish to spend time writing rubbishy stories and poems? I wasn’t in high school anymore, I was married and had responsibilities for a husband and a house, and writing didn’t meet anyone’s needs but my own. And things happened: notebooks went missing. My computer was damaged beyond repair, with all my writing irretrievable. A framed certificate for a prize in a writing competition was smashed. A box containing hard copies of my poetry was drenched in beer.

It happened so insidiously that I didn’t notice it – and at the same time, writing at home became impossible: the demands of living with a person who tried to undermine my creativity in whatever way possible simply took precedence. And then things got more fraught, more volatile, more dangerous – and it’s a rare and very special person who can keep their creativity alive when they’re trying to survive a war zone. I don’t have that strength, that determination, that single-mindedness. Creativity needs to be respected, and nourished, to thrive.

I’m re-learning about myself as a writer. I’m re-learning how my own creativity works. I’m re-learning how to take joy in my writing, in my creativity and sense of whimsy and adventure. I’m re-learning how to play with my art.

One day I might find myself voicing the words “I’m a writer” without even thinking about it, in the same way I’d say “I’m a social worker” or “I’m right-handed”. I might even find myself saying the words with pride in my voice.

But for the moment, I’ve spent the last two years regaining something precious that I thought I’d lost for good. And, incredulously, I can start to whisper those words: Actually, despite it all, I am a writer.

A forty-kilometre drive and being a poet.

I had to go to Sydney for a meeting today, and part of that involved driving forty-odd kilometres to what is now my most convenient railway station to catch the train with colleagues. I like driving – it’s good thinking time – and I like long drives, so I wasn’t averse to the drive, but I hadn’t anticipated how beautiful it would be. I was driving through mist-laden, rain-soaked farmland, and then into state forest. I was surrounded by trees and grass and fields of peacefully-grazing cattle, and by moist tree-ferns and what I guess would be classified as rainforest, overlooked all the while by the wildness of Mount Sugarloaf. Countryside like that – half the reason I moved to the rural outskirts of Newcastle – makes my soul sing.

And I found myself wondering, why is it that I’ve been so long without doing much writing at all? Especially poetry – I’ve just written a book of the stuff, and yet I’ve barely set pen to paper since I finished the edits. What’s going on?

Obviously, I’ve been busy, and distracted, and the day-to-day realities of running a busy human life (and getting sick) have got in the way. And that’s got to be ok, because the alternative is that it’s not ok, and then I start to feel judgemental and grumpy with myself. But there’s also a sense in which I need to regain my mind’s capacity to make poetry out of what it sees.

So I decided, simply, to do that. I looked, properly (within the realms of safe driving), and I allowed my mind the space to play with words. I held the words gently, and I tasted them, and I relished in them, delighted in them. I allowed myself to be elaborate, to use words as more than tools for drawing up a mental to-do list; I played with words in the same way my artist friend plays with colours and paints, with nothing to lose and only beauty to gain. I painted the view, and the feelings, with sentences, metaphors, descriptives, and I remembered what it is to play with words, to have fun with them. To delight in them. I became a poet again. I became, again, what I’m increasingly convinced I’m created to be.

I was driving, of course, and perhaps part of the pleasure of that drive this morning was that there was no capacity to capture my word-sculptures. They probably wouldn’t have been much good for a full poem anyway – what was important about that drive this morning was that it reminded me that I am in fact a person of words. A poet. It’s what I am, and I was reminded this morning of the joy I take in that, and the importance of claiming that for myself.

Although, it also made me think: I must buy a dictaphone.

A little little legacy.

I felt a bit bleak yesterday, when I sat down to write my journal in the evening. Sitting at my desk, with my cat on my lap resting her chin on my forearm (which made writing very difficult), I felt myself wondering about the, at times, futility of life. It’s Thursday, and soon another week will have ended, and what will I have to show for it? What will be different, other than that I’ll be a week older?

So I ended up making a list, of what changes because I do what I do. It wasn’t a comprenensive list, but it included the following:
• I’m good at what I do. My work in the management side of things helps my colleagues to help clients. That’s not a small deal.
• this week I have sent a number of messages to people I love, just to see how they are, or to ask how their first day at a new job went, or to wish them happy birthday. I’ve phoned a friend I haven’t been in touch with for a while; I’ve been a friend to different people. It makes a small difference, maybe a negligable one, but a difference is a difference.
• people have read my blog. I know they have, because I look at the statistics, and because every now and again I get an email telling me that someone is following it (those emails are small bright points in my day). Presumably the blog, too, makes a small difference.
• I’m writing. I’m writing a book, a poetry anthology. It’s a book about domestic violence, and escape, and healing, and rebirth. My poems will be Out There – not sitting patiently in a notebook, waiting for the day they’re tossed into the wastepaper bin: they’ll be out in the world, and real people will read them, and the world will be very slightly different because of that small book of poems. At least to the fifteen or so people who buy it…

We all have a list like this, because each of us change the face of the world just by walking on it. But I realised that the list of what I do to make a difference in the world is about caring, and creativity. If I fade out of existence tomorrow, that’s what I’ve left. That’s what my life has been about.

Caring and creativity. There are worse things to base a very small legacy on.

A slight shock, and going on retreat.

I just logged back in to my blog to note that the last entry was dated fifth of June. Really? FIfth of June? Have I been that neglectful? But WordPress is telling the truth: yes, it’s been that long. I haven’t written since last Thursday.

My calendar doesn’t lie either, and my habit of putting star stickers on the squares for the days on which I do a certain amount of writing is quite telling: there aren’t all that many stickers so far in June. There are some, which is something – but not as many as I’d like. Life’s been busy: work, home, singing. There have been appointments, and there have been church committments and blessed, wonderful time with friends whom I adore. And there’s been bleakness, and the intellectual tranquilisers on which I admit I’ve been relying recently. That’s just the way things go sometimes, and it has to be ok because the alternative is that it’s not ok, and then I get grumpy at myself and things go downhill from there. So, whether I agree with myself on that or not, I’ve decided that it’s ok.

The thing I’ve realised is not ok, though, is that among the important things that have fallen off the radar (and why is it always the important things that fall off the radar? My ironing is done, but I haven’t put pen to paper…) is my spirituality. My quiet time, that time of slowness and stillness, that time of holding in my conscious mind my inherent connection with the Sacred, the Divine, the very Source of my being.  The soothing rhythms of the prayers, the wordless meaning of the recitations which only reveals itself with repitition and concentration.

So I’ve come away. I’ve taken a week off work, and booked myself into a spirituality centre right on the edge of the lake, and the calendar on my phone and my computer has been cleared. I’ve been for a walk today, and sat on a rock overlooking the lake, and I’ve done some writing, and I’ve spent time in quiet and in space, and I’ll learn once more to prioritise those things which make me who and what I am: a writer, a singer, a spiritual being, a creature of the Creator. I’ll focus on being rather than doing, and I’ll remind myself that I’m actually designed to spend time in quietude, and I’ll remember what peace feels like.

And I’m thinking that I’ll probably have an early night.

Competence, commitment and rosters.

I was asked today what I’m good at – and I went blank. Completely empty-mided – all I could think of was what I wasn’t good at. What I’ve screwed up in the last little while. Where my failings lie, my vulnerabilities. The points at which my imperfections irk me: the irritating inconsistencies, the deep character flaws of which I’m quietly ashamed.

I did come up with something, after a few excruciating moments of frantic thought. I’m committed – I show up when I say I’ll show up, and if I’m doing something, I’ll put a hundred per cent of my effort and my emotional energy into it. I’ll do what I can to give back and to leave the world a better place than I found it. I was quite peased with being able to come up with that – I felt like that was a pretty alright thing to be good at, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not self-delusion – I actually am a person who commits herself to her values.

I’m not sure what it says about me that it took me so long to come up with that as the answer to the question though.

It was kind of good timing, that question, because I’ve struggled quite a bit lately – which means there have been times when I’ve dropped the ball. I’ve forgotten things; I’ve misplaced things. I’ve forgotten shifts when I’ve been doing the rostering at work; I even forgot to approve someone’s upcoming leave. I’ve mishandled sitations, and all I’ve been able to do is spread my hands and say, “My bad”.

Nothing’s exploded, it’s not a terrible thing anywhere other than in my head – I don’t cope with screwing up. It goes against who I feel I am; it goes against my values around my job, and around approaching everything I do as worthy of my full attention and skill: as a service, a sacrament. It also makes me realise how much I rely on my competence and skills, behind which I stand (behind which I hide?) when I’m not feeling great about myself.

That’s fine – I’ve got a week’s leave coming up, and I’ll return to work sparkly and rested and my usual proficient self. But I’m starting to think that I need to learn to cope with not being capable, and not hide behind that calm assertion of efficiency. Because whether I screw something up or not, I’m a human being, and I have worth regardless of how smoothly my staff rosters run.

Although life is damn sight easier when my rosters actually don’t have glaring clashes and unfilled shifts in them…