Island Blog – The sharper the knife

Two days to go. Then it will be a whole year since himself breathed his last. It is hard to believe and yet easy. I cast back to the days between then and now and cannot remember a lot of it. Many days were just a slog, a pointless slog and many other days were full of skips and puddle jumping. I notice more now that Time is my ‘bidey-in.’ I notice puddles, their shape and size and the way they grow, claiming more ground as that primary element argues with another one. I notice the way Spring comes shyly, nervous of pushing out too soon, just like me. I notice petals, watch them fall and wonder how they choose that very moment to do so. I see the turning of the beech leaves and just have to stand beneath them. I hear sounds more clearly, some sharp-slash ear offences, some soft and landing like, well, petals. I am aware of what I touch and how it feels to my fingertips. I notice a founder in those same fingers when I attempt to unpackaged packaging, or lift a heavy pot to the hob. I hear the sound of water coming to the boil in a pasta pan even from the next room. The tic, tic, tic of a clock is Time telling me she is here, as if I didn’t already know that. I can taste the snap-smell of his plaid shirts, the only things I haven’t yet moved on. They no longer smell of him and how could they? Everything was washed and double washed many months ago. I think I might make a patchwork soft mat from cuts of these shirts. They were so his ‘fashion’, a hanging on to the days of being a lumberjack in Canada so many years ago.

Years ago. His life by many stories was a long one. A wonderful one, he said, and often. Funny how we are never satisfied, never able to agree with ‘enough’ when it involves waving a final farewell. I know he didn’t want to live on. Who does in the late throws of dementia? I wouldn’t, for sure. He went happy and peaceful. That’s it. End of. Well, maybe it was for him. But now I feel like a pioneer facing a wilderness. The land endless before me goes right up to where my eyes meet the skyline and I have no map. I am not afraid, not lost, not in despair, no way. But this is so new to me that I confess to a bit of circling and a lot of hiding behind rocks. I go out, I keep a clean and tidy house, I feed myself well, I love music, I write, sew, dance (occasionally), walk every day and, as far as I can tell, house a lively brain. I have humour, mischief, a sense of fun and many good friends.

All this does not minimise the wilderness, that vast maw of sand, rocks, emptiness and maplessness. A load of ‘esses’ for sure. The way it alters, changes my language, my thoughts, my beliefs, my faith. I have faith, I have belief in something for me even if I don’t know what the hellikins that means and I have fun learning a new language. This, in itself, is perusable. Although I am, I confess, a lover of good strong language, words can escape me. I am thankful for Roget, a bible for writers. My battered copy is always beside me so that when I cannot find the right word, the one that accurately describes what I want to say instead of just ‘trending on twitter’ jumps out at me like a sudden-ness and that is okay. I am allowed, I tell myself, to lose the words I once found so easy to lift into the light because most of what I found so easy to lift into the light has been cut away, just like that, in a single not-breath.

I was reminded by my lovely daughter-in-law just yesterday of the final breath moment. She loved her father-in-law and he loved her. Her eyes lit up and her face lifted as she told me something I had forgotten. Remember, she said, as you all sat beside him watching his faltering breaths? Go on, I tell her, trying to find my way back to that moment. Well, she says, he took a big gasp breath and then everything went still. You looked at each other and began to move. This is it. The big man is gone. Suddenly, he breathed again, a big draw of earthly air and you all laughed, turning back to him. The next breath was his last, but that moment, he, the one who always had to be the centre of attention, claimed his right to it one more time.

‘The sharper the knife, the less you cry.’ So they say.

Island Blog 92 On Writing

On writing

As you may know, it is essential to read, especially if you are a writer.  I read avidly, even during the day sometimes, which would have had me thoroughly tutted at by Granny-at-the-gate.  Reading is for pleasure and wifeys don’t do pleasure inside of working hours which numbered, in my recollection about 22 per day.  But now I have less demands on my time by little or big people, although sometimes, just before collecting my book and settling into a chair, I do check the clock and feel a frisson of minor guilt.  It is so much easier to busy up with faffing jobs that lift the dirt or fill the larder with goodly smells, leaving the me part of me just a bit skinnier.

When I am writing, I become lost in the story, as I am now.  Nights are broken as I weave my web, and ideas come at the most inconvenient of times, when the night is dark as a cave and I know I should fight on to achieve my 6 hours of rest, but once the next idea comes, the something that might happen to someone, the how of it and its consequences gets a hold of me, then Lady Sleep leaves the room.  Over the years I have worked with various top tips.

Get up and start writing.  No thanks, its too cold downstairs.

Keep a pad beside the bed and write down your idea.  Yes I do that sometimes, if the story is just a foetus without a name, but if I am well on with the tale and the tellers of it, I can just lie there and follow the thread.  Often, almost always, a character takes me in a direction I never mapped out for them, and that aspect of story-telling has always surprised and delighted me.  It is, as if, once named on a page, each character accepts an initial structure, quite quietly it seems, until he or she decides I’ve got it all wrong and should listen to what they have to say about themselves.

Yesterday, a woman took an action I would never have expected of her, with a confidence that never came from me.  That action changed the whole course of the story and I sat back in my chair, fingers hovering over keys that had just become a jumble of confused letters.  A moment or so earlier, I knew just how to write a sentence.  I knew where he was going, what she would say, what they would do as a result.  Now I stare down at a keyboard that is singing me, not the other way around.  I have become a player in the greater game.

Some writers don’t like this state of affairs.  Some painters, musicians, song-writers too.  But for me, it is the time when I can, to a degree, let go of control, and enjoy learning about each character by listening to their guidance.  I move wholly and completely into their world.  I work to understand their feelings, often not my own, about what has happened to them.  I endeavour to find empathy with choices I would never make, have never made, although I do wonder if that bit is quite true.  If I have considered, even for one minute a choice of action not in sync with how I see myself, might that mean that I could do that thing in different circumstances?

When I am writing a story, I move into it.  I have to, or nobody would believe in it and the book would be closed and sent to a charity shop, un-read.  Good drama draws us in, involves us and we can emerge from a book feeling angry, upset or filled with a happiness that never came from the outside.  We can love a character, or hate them, wish them joys or want to punch them in the tonsils, but we can never find them dull, for if we do, we won’t bother to read on because we just don’t care.

Once I have found my characters, and, believe me, I do find them, or they find me, more truthfully.  These characters came to me in an ordinary moment when I wasn’t looking for them at all.  Two people sharing lunch in a café, and the dynamic between them.  It captivated me and the story began to tell me how it wanted to be written.  I made notes, kept looking at it as I walked, worked, cooked, cleaned and gradually the protagonists revealed themselves.  How they dress, laugh, eat.  How they love, how they live, and how they wrote their past.

Then, one day, I know it is time to begin and not long after I do, there is a knock at the door and in they all come.