Pop’s old library is full of it; lamp dappled walls, beautiful to look at, even more beautiful to feel.
How do you describe a feeling? You can only feel, and open up so others can know what you’re trying to tell them. Some people never open up. Some open and close and open again, like a snail rolling in and out of its shell.
I look for the switch, every day. The switch for the orange light inside of me. I’m the snail, and it is dark in here.
I will keep searching until I feel the light. When I feel the light, I will open, and journey on.
She places her palms over her ears and breathes into her belly. ‘Don’t wish it away. Such a precious age,’ she’s heard it a million times. She smiles politely. Tells them, silently, they’ve forgotten. Blocked out the bad times, remembered only the good.
She wants to say to them that every coin has two sides; every story, multiple themes running at once. And love. Even the love of a parent has two sides, always. When it’s easy, and when it’s hard.
Bathroom days are hard.
She counts the hairs stuck to the bathroom tiles. She won’t have time to pick them up, piece by scraggily piece. Too busy being an excellent mother, not wishing too loud for peace and quiet to find her once again.
She belongs in the bathroom.
They belong in fresh-white homes, lovingly tending to their overgrown toenails.
It’s odd, the way my novel is writing itself. I write in short bursts, for what reason, I couldn’t tell you.
I develop a beautiful flow, find a sweet new piece of the puzzle to slot into place. Then, the door closes. I do not know why it’s working this way, but I’m learning to trust that this is the way this novel wishes to be born.
I am resisting a little.
A big part of me gets cross. Just keep writing. Now. Today, this minute: push through the stop sign and write some more.
I’ve just sent some picture book manuscripts off to a literary agent. I feel a lot more confident in the process since having completed the picture book course last year, so that’s my next aim. To have one of my word babies published to a wider market.
I have such fond memories of childhood reading…publishing books for children would be an absolute honour. I love writing picture book texts. I find the challenge of condensing what could potentially be a long story into a short and lovely thing to be very rewarding.
Since uni, I’ve become a little addicted to the art of culling. Culling words, that is. For some reason, I find it extremely satisfying. Taking a clunky sentence and seeing how many words I can remove from it, in order to make it shine. You’d be surprised how many words can be culled without having a negative effect on the sentence. In fact, culling words often brings a sentence more power. Hence, the satisfaction.
Two years ago, before the universe exploded everything around me, I began two very writerly things. One thing was this blog (and what an absolute gift this place has been to me. Writing and a beautiful little band of friends to share my life with? I mean, what life experience could be more wonderful. )
The other writerly thing I began was my very first novel, which became just about my whole entire heart when it began to spin its delicate web within me. I fell in love with the people, the places, the thoughts, the ideas. Everything. My novel felt like a safe and lovely home, and I felt like I was the lucky owner.
Apparently it wasn’t time for the novel, though, because the universe decided to blow my life up and make me a whole new person (thanks very much universe. Oh, you’re really quite welcome, Brooke.)
Anyway, I’m getting silly ( 🙂 )but according to the universe, there were a few more breadcrumbs of life for me to pick up before this novel could take flight…and without ruining the story for you, I can tell you: the universe was right. My goodness, how right the universe was to blow up my world and my novel.
I can’t quite articulate how I feel about the novel now that I’ve returned to it, but I can say that the clarity of thought and expression I now experience in my creative life— due to the meditation and healing I’ve done since then, I’d imagine — has given me a new set of eyes. And a new piece of my heart to write with. My goodness, you guys. It is the most magical, wonderful thing.
A great deal more of my novel makes sense to me now. I couldn’t possibly have written the novel that was asking to be written back then because I didn’t have the right ingredients within the writerly/ humanly cook book of me, then.
But lately I’ve started hearing whispers from the universe and this is what they’ve said:
Arki was a taxi driver, but in his heart he was a writer. He knew he was a writer because the words never stopped racing in his mind until they were out. Neither did the joyous feeling they stirred in him.
Everyday Arki would think up his words and send them into the world. He didn’t need a computer. He didn’t need paper. All he needed was to flash his words onto the windscreen of his cab, onto the night shining road, onto the cars that sped along beside him. He didn’t care where his words landed. All he cared about was that they landed.
He didn’t need his words to change anyone else’s life, either, because they changed his, and that was enough. In changing his life, they fixed a permanent light in his eyes that everyone who crossed his path could see and feel.
Joe, the frequent flyer who dressed for business and laughed like a monkey, slapped him on the back and called him, The happy driver. Jennifer, the lonely lawyer with sad eyes and a happy smile, insisted on a hug once they’d reached the office of a morning—just to say thank you. He’d wrapped his arms around her this morning and wondered if her eyes were closed and wishing to ‘catch’ some of his happy.
Arki had grown up with the burning need to change the world in some grand way. But as he drove along the road to home, thinking of his wife curled up on the couch and his baby boy, nose whistling in his cot, he smiled. He had changed the world in greater ways than he’d ever imagined.
It was time to tackle a difficult read—a bold move, on my behalf. I’d grown up reading only for pleasure and, up until that point in my life, I’d not felt the need to be challenged by books. Reality could be a bitter pill to swallow as it was; did I really want it shoved in my face? Did I want to be huffing and puffing at the dictionary every ten words? No. I didn’t.
But I would do it anyway.
I decided on an Australian literary fiction novel that had a shiny gold sticker on it: an award winner. Surely this would challenge me. I lasted fifty pages before I turned to my husband—who was lounging on the couch opposite me with his own book— and made the big announcement.
‘The struggle is real,’ I said, and it was. Oh, my goodness it was.
Wordy passages of profound thought. Dull family portraits, the monotony of everyday life. A bit of love. A bit of hate. A bit of everything and nothing all at once. I raised my eyebrow and decorated the google search bar on my phone with the words I’d come to know way too well over the past few days, ‘Define (insert word here).’
‘It’s okay to stop reading,’ my husband said, smiling up at me from his book—which he was loving, by the way. And so, it seemed I had a choice. I could go on, allow myself the potential to expand as a reader (and, perhaps, as a human) or I could give up and go find another book. A lovely, lovely book!
Oh, man. I knew what the answer had to be. I needed to read on, I’d kick myself if I didn’t.
The dominoes fell about a quarter of the way through when I had the uncanny sense that the book was becoming more. I frowned into it, gently rocking back and forth on our beloved flower armchair (the same one that’s rocked both our precious babes to sleep, on countless occasions) when I realised what had happened. For the very first time, I had seen me within the pages of a book. Not just the outer crust of me. The inner creaks, the bones, the blood; and all the horrendous aches and pains life had thrown my way.
It felt awful. It felt so bloody awful that I just did not know how I could possibly last through another moment of such soul-scraping reality. Surely, I’d have to put the book down. But I didn’t. I kept reading. And then the book was finished. Just like that, I’d been changed because I dared to go to a place, within the world of literature, that frightened me.
There lies the beauty and the beast that is literary fiction—the grace of the art, the rawness of humanity; these are books coloured by the real-lives of writers who dare to expose life’s simple truths so that us readers might come to know ourselves, and our world, differently.
Michelle De Kretser is one of Australia’s best when it comes to finding the truth and telling it in the form of a novel. As I sat in the audience of her Q and A session on Saturday—only days after she won her second Miles Franklin Award—I was taken right back to the book that changed me. My burst into the world of literary fiction and the humanity that connected me to it, and it to me.
Michelle’s characters are ordinary, flawed people—at least, the ones I’ve met so far— and they are so alive with the human traits we all share. It was fascinating to hear her explain the way she draws the lives of these imperfect individuals, crafts them into little gems that reflect the lives of us, the readers.
It was very easy to be inspired by Michelle and her cheeky confidence. She spoke about all the crap of life as though the fixes were obvious, that underneath the complications of modern living, lies simplicity. People. Just trying to be.
All the beautiful textures and colours of the world, and there they are— in the minds of our most cherished writers, on the pages of our most precious books. Surely, to be human is to share our lives and hearts with others. To take a chance. To show each other our scars and to help each other heal from them. Because life hurts so much better when we roll with the punches, together, don’t you think? To me, that’s the beauty of literature. And I get the feeling that Michelle De Kretser just might feel the same way.
I’ve never read an Alexis Wright, book. Until she won the 2018 Stella prize, I’d never even heard her name.
But I can’t stop thinking about the speech she gave at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Wednesday night, and I absolutely think you should read it, here.
It’ll be good for the writer in you.
It’ll be good for the human in you.
It’ll just…be good.
‘I absolutely believe that we need deep thinking and deep imagination in our literature to shock the daylight out of us, to make us see what is happening in the world, to make us think, and if we teach how to read more deeply, think more, then perhaps, perhaps, we might stop harming ourselves and the planet.
Alexis Wright, Boisbouvier Oration, 2018
(One more post to go for my Melbourne Writers Festival series. I’ll try to get that to you over the coming days. xx)