I want to write! I really want to write!! I have a great idea; I have 700 words of Chapter 1 and I have the perfect space in which to write. But still, I don’t dive in. I have written those 700 words repeatedly, making minor changes and tweaking incessantly. The thing is, I know why. My WHY is fear. I’m afraid it will be awful; I’m afraid it will languish in obscurity or worse, be laughed at. I’ve forgotten my own guiding principle: I need to write for myself.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her book Big Magic: How to live a creative life and let go of your fear, that
“we are all walking repositories of buried treasure [and] this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels – that’s creative living.”
I think there may be jewels buried within me, but I must find the courage to not only find them, but to put them out into the universe.
And so, if I could beg your indulgence dear reader, I will share with you two short stories that I wrote some years ago before I lost my courage. My hope, if you are contemplating the search for your own hidden jewels, is that you will find yours.
The first I wrote while studying creative writing at the University of Canberra and is based on my very real fears when my son was deployed to Iraq with the military. It was published in the University’s anthology to my everlasting delight.
‘NIL ILLEGITIMI CARBORUNDUM’ (a 'technical' military term meaning "don't let the b******s grind you down")!!
If I shut my eyes, I can see him. He’s tall and I have to crane my neck and reach to ruffle his hair, which he will tolerate if we’re alone. He’s not a ‘looker’ in the inane, streetwise sense of the word. Oh, but he’s handsome. He’s solid and strong and to me utterly beautiful.
Between phone calls and cups of instant coffee, I catch a glimpse of him laughing at me. We’re tight like that, always banter and pandemonium, larking around. Hot summer days melting into black thunderous skies, and we’re curled up together on a windowsill, counting the seconds, timing the distance. Eyes and mouths wide open as the rain pours and the sky tunes up ready for the finale.
He falls asleep in his porridge, a black Labrador lying hopefully beneath. As he grows and is wiser, she grows fatter, and her devotion knows no limits.
So many first days. Grey shorts and a big jacket. He’ll grow into it. Then the long pants and still a hug at the gate. “I love you”. Life sucks when the black phase kicks in and I wait it out, knowing that he’ll emerge and kiss me at the door again.
A parade ground in the rain. One of them goes down and throws up, the stress and excitement and the expectation too much. They all shuffle up to close the gap and I worry about how long it took to polish those boots.
What’s osmosis? And Pythagoras theorem? These are my favourites. I remember them word for word. The square on the hypotenuse…semi-permeable membrane. Easy, but social networking has me stumped, I’m not welcome there. But I am an infrequent spy and wonder how he learned that sort of language.
The sucking in of life and the spewing it out from the moment of birth until adulthood arrives on a fanfare. Cub Scout band to symphony orchestra in little more than a decade.
Dear Diary. Felt the first kick today.
Inexhaustible lectures on the perils of speeding and the blood alcohol limit. Promise me, promise me, promise me.
Teddy left behind at the supermarket, languishing between the tomato ketchup and the mayonnaise. Two halves of the same whole, one shrieking, devastated, the other staring at the beans through a button eye, jaunty hat on sideways.
Images pattering nonsensically and I welcome them all, too afraid to begin to accept, too afraid to begin the process of forgetting. On a hot day in May we waved him off, proud and in awe of our achievement.
Dear Mum and Dad, please don’t worry.
In a small, cardboard box there are things. Each one priceless in its own right. Unexceptional detritus of an exceptional life that holds me, and I am captive, willing. In the smallest hours of the night, I let the thoughts that are in the box wind their tendrils around me. They creep into my pockets and under my arms. They wrap themselves around my feet, ankles, legs, waist. They are at my neck on the pulse there. They squeeze. Insistent. Pressing. Soon they will push the breath out of me until I am lying on the floor waiting for my heart to stop.
Sunlight drenching dust motes in golden fingers. Golden curls sprouting from baby blue sheets. Eyes sticky with mascara and sweat. Tiny nostrils swathed in green candles. Too much remembering. Not enough. I can no longer separate my thoughts and my memories, and I will embrace it all because that is what I do. It’s what I deserve.
I sent my child to war you see. I gave him a $500 watch with the words ‘nil illegitimi carborundum’ engraved on the back. I smiled and waved. I did it all by the book. Food parcels and letters every week. Dropping everything for a weekly phone call. Dropping everyone. Talking, talking, talking to anyone who would listen. Counting down the days and planning the big welcome. Three weeks to go and there’s a big push. It’s bad but my boy has the cloak of my love to protect him.
When you put your nineteen-year-old child in the ground they give you a flag folded carefully into a triangle and a shiny medal. They fire guns over the grave and tell you how he saved three of his friends and sacrificed himself. They murmur encouraging words about how they are there to help but I don’t hear because the thoughts are in my head and as I turn away, I am forgotten.
… and the second is a competition entry for Australian Country Living magazine with the theme of ‘food’. It didn’t win but the joy in the memories that created it was enough.
Lemon yellow and duck egg blue are the colours in my mind’s eye; the colours of perpetual spring and summer. No autumn or winter in my Granny’s kitchen. Here there is only sunshine and blue sky, lemon curd and plum jam, gooseberry tart and fresh whipped cream. Here there is love.
A tartan blanket in the orchard and a stream running between privet hedges. Long grass, soft as velvet and the gentle hum of insect life. Bramley, Cox Orange Pippin, Russet and Cornish Gillyflower gathering in the boughs; riotous and kicking up their underclothes ready for a picnic. Red currants mustering and raspberries mingling, strawberries blushing and blackberries glistening, bathed in a clean and pure afternoon light as two little gypsies catch Red Cardinals and Cabbage Whites. Lemonade sharp and sweet calling in the wasps. Cold beads of condensation running into the camomile and daisies. One hour to dinner and the aromas drifting lazily from the kitchen window set the dog’s tongue to lolling and drive us wild with anticipation.
The enchantment of Saturday high tea and sandwiches are the order of the day with crusts removed and all our favourite fillings. Egg and cress, cheese and tomato and ham with chutney (home-made of course). Cupcakes, fairy cakes, fruit cakes and scones wrestle for position in higgledy piggledy fashion amongst the shortbread fingers and the chocolate caramel slices. All emerge miraculously as if hurtled from a gastronomic super nova, riding a celestial culinary highway to the earthly landing of the dining table where they alight with a barely detectable whumph amongst a delicate dusting of icing sugar.
Sunday roast and it’s lamb today with rosemary, garlic and emerald mint sauce. Better than beef or chicken but not as good as pork with the salty crackling crunching and exploding in your mouth, the sweet apple sauce and thick gravy like molten lava on the plate. Then the pudding, oh my goodness the pudding. Steamed treacle sponge and custard or is it lemon meringue pie today piled high with an avalanche of swirling white and toasted cliffs and valleys hiding the lusciousness beneath? Every morsel a heavenly transportation. Stomachs groaning and nowhere to go but Sunday afternoon TV. Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton fighting the good fight in snow and ice.
Just popping round for a midweek cuppa Gran, no need to make a fuss. But a banquet is what she feels we deserve, and a banquet is what we shall get. Lamb casserole, oozing with rich flavours and chunks of carrot and kidney peeping out from behind the bay leaves. Fluffy mash replete with the very best Devon butter cosying up against runner beans fresh from the tee pee. Brussels sprouts, those little pocket rockets of vitamin-boosting goodness (the lengths our parents will go to) sautéed gently and speckled with tantalizing slivers of toasted almonds. Bread and butter pudding competing for attention with warm Bakewell tart. Delicious, scrumptious, delectable, mouth-watering yumminess serenaded by a piano concerto floating dreamily around the curtains and settling like gossamer in our young ears. If only the correlation between cooking heaven and musical serenity were better exploited, what maestros we would create through the generations. Beethoven, Vivaldi and Mozart speak of spun sugar, crème caramel and violet macarons. What then the melodic counterpart of hamburgers, chips and cola-flavoured slurpy?
Skinny arms and legs cartwheeling wildly through dandelion seeds afloat on the breeze belying the calorie-laden offerings. We’re running like the wind, high on life and Granny’s cooking. We’re gazelles on the plain, monkeys in the trees, wild horses in a storm with thrashing hooves; manes and tails like banners in the maelstrom. Our minds are sharp, our curiosity never sated. We’re astonishing, astounding, and remarkable.
If I close my eyes, even now I can still remember. The colours are vivid in my memories and so are the scents, the sounds of her moving quietly about the place, the dependable nature of it all, the tranquil uniformity of our childlike expectations. The stirring of the Christmas cake batter and treasures in the festive pudding. The music wafting peacefully by as soup bubbles on the stove. The house and the apple orchard long gone and so is she, but the remembering will always remain in a hot buttered scone, a slice of apple pie, a freshly baked biscuit. It will always remain in me.
Thank you for letting me share my jewels (my own very personal jewels) with you. I will finish by simply saying, find your courage, pick up your pen or laptop and simply start.
In the words of Elizabeth Gilbert -
“I have never created anything in my life that did not make me feel, at some point or another, like I was the guy who just walked into a fancy ball wearing a homemade lobster costume. But you must stubbornly walk into that room, regardless, and you must hold your head high. You made it; you get to put it out there. Never apologise for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it. You did your best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time that you were given. You were invited, and you showed up, and you simply cannot do more than that.”