Friends have now seen this blog, which I had kept to myself for a wee while. My initial reaction is to squirm in acute discomfort at the exposure. Next I set the discomfort aside and try to ignore it. Now I’ve picked it back up and it sits in my hand, a Devil’s eye marble rolling about in my palm. Will I set it down to roll across the desk and over the side into the mysterious hinterland of computer cables, pen caps and thick dust on the floor back there? Or will I instead put it in my mouth, to swallow and choke on?
I set myself a challenge at the new year, to fit writing into my life somehow, even if I must use a crowbar to do so. Not just keeping a journal – I’ve done that for 27 years, and while that’s of course the ideal place to put my thoughts and impressions, it is mainly a formless stream, without shape or conclusion. I decided I would try to write things with more focus, with beginnings and ends, to see where it would lead. And here I am, blogging away into the blogosphere among the bloggers of blogland.
This all kicked off last summer when I wrote a brief something, in a bid to support somebody’s collaborative project. That short composition – while cramped and rusty and reminiscent of turning in homework – reminded me of how much I enjoy writing. It led me to attempt something larger in the autumn: an essay unravelling an experience I had at a festival last May. This was composed in response to a call for journal submissions, part of another collaborative project whose edges I skirt.
The essay however grew into a many-headed beast which eventually overwhelmed me. Despite the intense dozens of hours I’d spent writing it, the thousands of words worth of slush eventually culled from it, and the near-completion to which I brought it, the submission deadline cornered me. The attempted essay had a hole in its heart, like a jigsaw puzzle with a missing piece. I needed to step back and to gain some perspective. This coincided with the distracting obligations of December, that merciless month with its domestic steamroller of festive duty (what Anne Fine calls “a ghastly demanding octopus whose tentacles spread further every year.”)
So I shelved the essay. I described this development to my friend and neighbour, an experienced and gifted writer whose third book will be published soon. She zeroed in immediately on what was happening: are you afraid of being heard? she asked.
Hell yes. My personal demons are hovering now: my father’s inevitable, undermining catchphrase “what you mean to say is….”; my brother’s sharp-witted ridicule, always lurking. These people I loved and trusted (don’t evade it: these men I loved and trusted) were all too willing, all too often, to rub my nose in my own inadequacy. Why is that? I learned to stay quiet to protect myself, and I’ve been doing it now for so long that I no longer know what I want to say or – more pointedly – if what I want to say is actually what I want to hear.
I must unlearn to not speak, “starting with I / starting with We.”