Thursday, June 21, 2007


As Dee's Jewish grandmother would say, Nobody ever said it was easy: they were right when they didn't say it!

What is this thing I'm suffering from? Writer's block? How can it be? How can I have writer's block when I barely consider myself a writer? A writer, self-evidently, is someone who writes. Me? I write sometimes.

Sometimes I manage to do the day (the endless, mindless tasks which must be done simply to make one day look like another; interspersed with the odd, unmissable moment of brilliance with Anna-mouse); sometimes I manage to get the child down; share some sort of coherent minutes with the Bim before he stumbles up to bed for another 4.30am wake-up; call my mother-who-is-in-chemotherapy; call a friend (very unlikely if I have got through to Esme); watch something mind-numbing on TV for long enough to induce a semblance of relaxation and then sometimes, just sometimes, make it up the stairs quietly enough not to wake husband or child, turn on the computer and write.

It's an exhausting business, not being a writer.

They say it's a process. I'm pissed off with the process. I want results. I want to know I can string more words together than the length of a post. I want to write a short story in two days, not two years. Above all, I want to snatch the gremlins from my person (they've recently been breeding and now a collection of ugly voices keeps a noisy, near-constant vigil on both shoulders), throw them at the wall and watch them die a slow and nasty death.

I resent that these creatures, these voices with impressive credentials, inhabit my world. I am angry with myself that they have such astonishing sway. Where do the negatives get in? At what point? What age? Do they come from just one source, one parent, or many such figures? Have I spent the day passing subtle, debilitating messages to my beautiful clean slate of a daughter? If I knew, I'd sell quite alot of my soul to protect her self-confidence from the slime of self-doubt sliding its suffocating message down the ages.

Tonight I want to silence my ancestors new and old. I want to act David to the Goliath, Family, which gives with one hand while the other sneaks round from behind until it has placed its gentle, fatal seal across the mouth. Let me speak! Let me speak! Let me say the unspeakable, project my voice into the darkness and be heard.

Of course I know, I do know, that the voices which hinder me are not real, though lately they may as well have been. I also know that, for some reason, in my - dare I say it - extremely talented clan it is fear of success which has frequently stumped us, not fear of failure. Laughable when it's told out loud, just like that, without a by-your-leave, don't you think? Lethal, too, when you combine it with the voices.

I remember a favourite maxim of mine: Leap, and the net will appear. Or, as in my case, the inter-net. Writing here for almost a year has indeed helped me to silence the voices. I can only imagine that the reason I feel like I'm wading through treacle in over-sized wellingtons every time I even so much as think of writing, lately, is perhaps because it has become that much nearer. The dream, I mean. The one where I get to write all the time, where my commitment becomes tangible and the results are paid for - for real.

I'm scared. But I'm driving myself crazy with this. I need to leap.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Planting Up

A fine, damp mist falls into our urban valley as I work, quickly, against the fading light. Starting work with the old plastic trowel, I soon discard this in favour of my hands, plunging them into the bag of compost and coming up with fistfuls of warm, clean earth. In no time at all grit niggles satisfyingly behind my fingernails.

Eight budding petunias and a handful of busy lizzies make up four pots of varying sizes. Small and ungainly in their polystyrene trays, they appear to spread into their summer selves before my very eyes as I transfer them into patted-out holes and press more compost around them.

I’m aware, nowadays, of Esme’s hands working with me when I work in the garden - her know-how, her demonstrations, her advice firming the plants into their proper place. In my mind’s eye I see her in our childhood garden after my father left, heartbroken, kneeling before the borders, healing her soul with her solitary communion with the earth. I don’t remember Esme teaching much then, it’s more recent, adult times of instruction I cherish when I take up a fork or a spade.

Earlier this same day, Esme has gone to the hospital for her weekly cancer clinic. The previous night, as it happens, the episode of a popular TV drama in which Esme has a guest part was aired. Everyone at the hospital knows about this episode, because it was for this job that Esme postponed her operation. She actually phoned the consultant and asked him whether she’d be putting her life at risk if she put the op off for a couple of weeks. His secretary, a lover of TV soaps and serials, was terribly impressed with this real-life quandary of a real-live actress, and helped Esme chase the consultant round the hospital until he picked up her call.

And so it was, a few hours before my twilight planting, that when Esme walked into the chemotherapy unit for her blood test, everyone – staff and patients – cheered.

I hope my plants prosper. And I hope that my other growing project, the sleeping child in the room across the landing, has mixed into her being some of her grandmother’s grit.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I'm It

Required: eight facts. Only eight. About me.

When Elsie let me know I'd been 'tagged' I was pretty chuffed. Since then I've been struggling to write this post. I'd even go so far as to call it a mild case of Poster's Block - really, I've found it unbelievably hard to come up with 8 facts about myself which won't bore me to death to write about, or bore the reader to read. Funny, since so many of my posts are, let's face it, about, ehem, me...

Anyway, I'm fed up to the back teeth with this procrastinating (and, as my old Italian teacher used to say, my back teeth go a long way back), so I'm just going to plunge in and see what surfaces...

Fact One: Once I danced naked on a roof in Herne Hill in the rain. My friend and I threw off our clothes and climbed out of a window onto the flat roof when the downpour came. It was joyous. A marker. A memory of youth. That same friend and I hit an impasse years after that which caused us to pause our friendship. Just recently we made tentative moves towards one another to resume. I understand now that love doesn't go away just because you can't handle it, and that where some people are concerned, family is family, whether they're blood family or not.

Fact Two is this: I understand the above because of something I started doing on Sunday, 5th March 2006. On that day I started to attend Quaker Meeting for Worship. This is a quiet fact, not one I shout about. How to speak of something as private and mysterious as uncovering one's faith? Perhaps another day. I can mention the astonishing power of the silence. The hopefulness of the light which streams through the three celestory windows of our simple meeting room. The subtle working of the other light, the one Quakers speak of, in parts of my life which I did not think could be illuminated. And I can mention the silence again.

Fact Three: In another silence, one July eight years ago, during a guided 'creative visualisation' I had what I've only ever been able to describe as a vision. I saw some part of a possible future for myself. It involved dance, and working with the dispossessed, and running a place of which I was the boss. I was on holiday at the time, and my life was a million miles from what I had seen. But within weeks this vision led me to be offered movement teaching work, then to the decision to re-train in Community Dance, and from there it led me to a placement in Ireland, where I met the Bim. Which led to... well, let's just say the vision's on hold for the time being!

Fact Four: Anna-mouse had a sister called Joy. We were both sure she was a girl, though she only made it to seven weeks. I have never forgotten the intensity of the happiness I felt when I carried her. Hence her name. I found out she had died in a tiny cubicle in a Catholic hospital in southern Ireland. It was just past midnight. You never forget.

Fact Five: I had been trying to live in Ireland with the Bim. The country, while a pleasure to visit, sat uncomfortably with me as a permanent option. When Joy died, I had to come home.

Fact Six: I came home, in a fantastical journey with nine bags, over land and sea: Cork city to Rosslare to Fishguard to Swansea to London. What I remember most as I stepped off the train at Paddington Station was being hit by this vast wall of sound, a city soundscape which has no equal. I began to realise I'm a Londoner, through and through.

Fact Seven: Within months of my return, the Bim had followed me over the water to live with me here in England. Before we met, he had never been on a plane and didn't have a passport. I never forget this. I hold this act of love very dear.

Fact Eight: It's not actually very hard to write eight facts about yourself if you do it quickly, and from the heart.

Now I believe I am supposed to name 5 others out of whom I would like to tease eight facts. Elsie, forgive me - I'm useless at chains of any kind, I'm too much of a laissez fairekind of a gal. I can only humbly offer my 8 facts and hope the ether might inspire others without the asking.