makar [ˈmækər]
n (Literature / Poetry) Scot a creative artist, esp a poet
[a Scot variant of maker]

Saturday, February 28, 2015

I have a friend who has this gentle, super perceptive way of expressing something that makes complete sense to me, but that I hadn't quite managed to formulate into a cohesive idea. When she comes out with one of these gem, I feel as if I knew it already, but that it lay, until this moment, just beyond my grasp. A few weeks ago, we were talking about work and what the future held for us, and she explained that she's had this realization that you can find a meaningful, enjoyable way of making a living, but that it might not necessarily be the thing that makes you tick. Perhaps that special love - be it writing, painting, sculpting, music, dancing, gardening, whatever - just has to be what you do when you aren't at work (the trick, of course, being to find a way to make just enough money to enable you the energy and time you need to devote to the unpaid pursuit). It seems so obvious, doesn't it? But I was like, wow, that's completely it! Why didn't I figure that out 15 years ago? Well because, when you're 20, the world is rather black or white, or it was for me. If I was going to write, I was going to win the Booker; if I was going to design clothes, I would be the next John Galliano; if I was going to make documentaries, they would be amazing and cutting edge, and I would write and direct them. There were no shades of grey; no compromises. To be honest, I still lack subtlety, but back then I was pretty extreme, and I walked away from lots of things because I wasn't willing to settle for less than my (great) expectations.

From time to time, it has occurred to me that it would be good to have a vocation - a practical skill that I could use to make an income, but that wouldn't use up all my time or suck my soul dry. There's also this inner voice, this snob, this uncompromising little devil, that says: "No, you're not that person. You have to do and be something serious. Have a career. Be fierce." Playing around with words and images will always be the thing that floats my boat - don't get me wrong - but I can see now that there might be something else too. If I can make money from writing, then that would be ideal, but I will still write, no matter what. For now, I can only just manage to find the smallest nooks of time in which to do that, motherhood being my extremely full-time job. In the future, this won't be the case, and I'm kind of excited by the possibilities.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Yesterday evening, I went to see the film, Wild. I didn't have high expectations - it looked fun in a Hollywood one-woman-against-the-elements kind of way. A road movie on foot, lots of lows, some highs, a little introspection, a journey of self-discovery, a coming-of-age. And, of course, it was all those things. It was funny, it was sad, it was beautiful, it felt very real, which is good because it's a true story. What I didn't expect was how much the back story of this deeply troubled, desperately destructive woman would upset me. Tears were shed. I had to bite my lip to stop them. Like me, she lost her mother to cancer when she was in her early twenties. It was a brutal and quick death. Her mother is the most important person in her life - I felt the same about mine. She is completely undone by her loss, in an entirely different way to me, but there were definite echoes of the emptiness I experienced. And then there was something about the fun-loving, free-spirited, horse-riding, fate-accepting beauty of her mother that made it all just too close.

I found a quotation from Cheryl Strayed's book, on which the the film was based. It makes sense to me:

"I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I’d wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again."

It wasn't a perfect movie. The end was a little too heavy-handed for me. I prefer some unanswered questions, a touch of mystery surrounding the future, a few less words, and a little more subtlety. But I liked it, and I think it's good to be taken off guard sometimes; to have a cry and remember the sad things we mostly manage to push to one side.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

"The word is a flame burning in a dark glass." Sheila Watson

My daughter is hooked on reading and currently working her way through the Harry Potter box set. She wakes up early, turns the light on and wakes up her brothers, and starts reading. Persuading her to do anything else involves endless nagging and sometimes bribery. She reads while she eats, while she cleans her teeth; she even tried once to get in the shower with her book. She reads until the absolute last moment before we leave the house, on the bus, before school starts, on the way home, and all evening. I miss her; her brothers miss her: "I want to play with her but she's reading Harry Potter again." But I'm also a little jealous. I wish I could read with that intensity and devotion. I haven't done that for such a long time. I remember setting aside whole days for reading, filling half a suitcase with books and devouring one a day on holiday. I loved disappearing into another world; I loved escaping the one I often found too much to bear. Books provided me with escape and comfort, but they also helped me to understand the complexities of relationships and emotions, and the messed up dramas of our existence. So when people say to me, "I don't read fiction", or even "I don't read books", I'm flummoxed. I literally don't know how to respond. For me, that's like saying "I don't listen to music" or "I don't look at beautiful things". I don't get it. Watching my daughter take her first steps was incredible (and terrifying), hearing her say "I love you" for the first time made my heart skip a beat, her beautiful drawings fill me with delight, but witnessing her learn to read and falling in LOVE with reading is like seeing her whole world blossoming.

So I've realised that, although I don't read like that anymore, writing has taken on that role for me. It's where I go when I can't bear my reality, when I just cannot understand what is happening in my world. When I'm ecstatic or sad, lonely or overwhelmed, I start writing and it gets me through. It helps me unpick it all. Sometimes I want to stay in that fictional world, or to visit more often, and that can be hard, but at other times, I'm happy and ready to come back to reality, refreshed, and with a new insight or outlook. I cannot imagine what it would be like to not have those other places to go.

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