I find at times a hesitancy in my belly when I come to write. It isn’t block, as such, more like someone’s fingers on my arm pulling me away from the qwerty keyboard. Invisible fingers, head fingers, my fingers. A puzzlement. I ask the question. Are you advising me ‘not now’ or are you telling me I have lost the knack and must needs curl up in wordless silence like a hedgehog? When I worked on Island Wife, or, rather, when I first decided to begin at the beginning, I felt a fear at my back, like there were two critical eyes boring holes, right through my five layers of jumper and sending their aggressive beams into my brain and right through my body. Go Away, I said, flapping a tea towel over my shoulder. I will not listen to that claptrap. How do you know anyway? You haven’t written a book now have you? Oh no, you are just like Miss Shrimp in Eng Lit who also never wrote a book but considered herself God’s Eyes on all literary matters, most of which were none of her business. She was jealous. She wrote and I quote from my school report, the same report my mother flourished before my downturned face as if in rebuke:- ‘Judith has an inflated imagination.’ I smile at that now. If said Shrimp had realised just how much of a compliment that was, her with her thin lips, established scowl and clumpy brogues, she might have reconsidered her words. All it told me, and clearly, is that she didn’t have an imagination and was rather cross about such godly erratum.
In truth, this skinny sliver of self doubt is simply that, based on an almost complete absence of evidence and truth. It comes unbidden, unsought and to every single one of us in whatever area of our life is held most preciously dear. If I cannot cook salmon as well as my chef sister, it phases me not. She is a professional after all and cooking is her passion. It is only in the field, the world of writing that I am most vulnerable. If I cannot recite most of Roget’s Thesaurus in order to locate the best way to describe a thing, situation or person, I feel a frisson of panic. I remind myself, and quickquick, that the writers bible is sitting right beside me on the desk and it will take me a matter of seconds to find the word I have forgot, but the fear of ‘losing it’ remains like indigestion in my gut. Why can’t I remember today what I knew yesterday? Well, not quite yesterday, more about 100 yesterday’s ago, to be honest.
Mrs Sensible appears beside me. Listen you twit, you are not even widowed a year and prior to that you spent 10 years caring for himself as he, inch by inch, curled himself back into a foetal ball. You are just learning how to live alone, to conquer your fears, to redesign what life is left to you. Give yourself time, and a break. She rolls her eyes and heads off to tidy up the fridge, the state of which can only be described as chaos, even after checking Roget. She is right, I know she is and the indigestion eases. It thinks me, this self-doubt thingy, coming as it does just at the wrong moment, just when I think I am doing really well and moving on and all those other ridiculous cliched truths. In conversations this past weekend, we touched on this. As we get older we become more and more aware of our own mortality, of time passing too fast (and too slow), of losing it. Instead of life being something we never think about, we think about it all the time. We are expected not to lie back and take life for granted but instead to hold each precious moment like a heartbeat, the ultimate jewel. It makes me chuckle when I read on a death certificate that Jim Shortlife died of heart failure. Well who doesn’t?!
And so to the qwerty. If I sit here long enough as my self-doubts catapult about my ankles like naughty children, and if I allow the noise to turn white as mist, the momentum I create in writing words will whisk that mist away. I am taking action despite my self-doubt and fear. I am not curling hedgehogs. I am refusing to listen to Miss Shrimp. My heart is still beating.