This is what I’ve done today instead of writing: I’ve swept the floor, done two loads of washing, put away approximately 57348 things. I’ve done an exercise DVD, gone for a run, scrolled aimlessly on Facebook, eaten more than I should have. I’ve done two lots of dishes. There are still more on the sink. I’ve fed animals, and fed, bathed, transported, organised and entertained children. I’ve made dinner. I’ve poured myself a glass of wine. This is not a complete list.
There are always a lot of things that need to be done when you have kids. This is an observation, not a complaint. I chose to be a foster carer, and it’s without doubt the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. (And that’s coming from someone who worked in residential drug and alcohol rehabs, both here and overseas, for years.) I didn’t fully appreciate this before I became a parent, but it’s true – there are hundreds of things that need to be done, and even if you manage to do them all, you’ll still feel like you’re not doing enough. But somehow, still, plenty of people manage to be parents and still write. Surely I should be able to as well?
Writing is always hanging over my head. It always feels like the thing that I should be doing. Even when I complete something, there are always dozens more things on my ‘projects on the go’ list. So why do it? This is the question I ask myself sometimes. Why not get a steady job, where someone will pay me a steady wage, and give away this whole silly idea of writing something?
I think that writing is the kind of thing that just exists in your bones. For some people it’s art, or music. It’s that urge to create, to express, to make something beautiful. For some people it’s some other passion, maybe sport or fashion. For some of us, it’s writing. Ever since my teenage years, writing maudlin poetry, I’ve had the desire to write. (Also, what is it about teenage angst that translates so well to poetry? Perhaps it is because poetry is all about emotions, something that teenagers have in wild abundance.) So often I find myself turning over an idea in my mind, something that would make a great story, or some beautiful idea that I would express, if only I had the time to find the right words. Now it’s time to find those right words.
Because there are stories to be told. There are stories of my own experiences, and stories of other people, other events of history. There are stories that I care about, and stories that are just plain fascinating. For example, recently on Manus Island, a Rohingya man, Salim, died in an apparent suicide. He was, by all accounts, a gentle man who loved flowers, from one of the most persecuted minorities on earth, who died due to the hopelessness of his situation. This is a story that should be told, I believe, told and told until it sinks into our hearts and we care enough to change our attitudes and our policies. There are also stories that are just interesting. We had a pirate of sorts, here in Esperance, who lived on Middle Island. It’s the kind of story that just begs to be told. Then there are stories that are purely made up, or based just slightly on history. They are stories that sometimes just seem to get into my bloodstream and take on a life of their own.
Writing, I think, is a way to be heard, to be understood. It’s something we all want, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s an urge that seems self indulgent and narcissistic. It’s the whining, passive aggressive post on social media. It’s the person who overshares, who talks too much. But sometimes, that desire to be heard can be much more pure. It’s the desire to connect to another human being, to see and to be seen in a way that affirms our humanity. It’s the desire to express the deepest parts of ourselves in a way that makes other people say ‘me too!’ I see it in the times a simple, heartfelt chat with a friend will leave me feeling energised and happy. I see it in the times that you go to some kind of a performance, and the musician or actor is so open and vulnerable that you leave feeling like you know them personally. It is hard to write like this. Being open and vulnerable and heartfelt can leave you feeling like maybe you don’t really have anything worthwhile to say at all. Maybe it would be better for people to not really hear you. But also, maybe it is worth the risk.
Because here is the other thing about writing. So often, I think reading makes us better people. It gives us empathy, it helps us to fully understand what it is to be human, to struggle, to hope, to achieve, to love. I know that reading – and reading widely – has made my life so much richer and deeper. Travelling does the same thing, of course. But sometimes when you travel to another place, you only see the touristy surface of a place. To fully know what a country is like, or a town, or a city, I think you have to live there for a long time. In a very limited way, books allow us to ‘live’ in a place for a time, to see that place through someone else’s eyes. This is why I love India, despite having never been there. Some of my favourite books of all time are set there. (If you’re wondering – A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, among many others.) When we read, we also learn about other time periods, or about what people who are entirely different to us might experience. These things are so important. In some small way, in any way that I can, I’d like to be a part of this.
There’s more, of course there is. There’s the deep satisfaction of a truly good story. There’s the desire to get my kids enthralled and delighted by reading – and, I’m happy to report, they’re well on their way. There’s the thrill of having someone tell me that they like something that I’ve written. There’s the joy of writing something funny, especially when other people find it funny too. There’s the hope that even living in a small country town, far away from political centres of power, I may be able to write something that influences people to care about the things I’m passionate about. And, you know, it would be nice to one day make money from something that I enjoy doing. Well, most of the time I enjoy doing it… It’s so easy to forget, when I’m staring at the computer screen, how much I do enjoy writing. Not for anyone else, although these days, it’s always a thrill when people read things on this very humble blog of mine – but for myself. Then there are days, when things are flowing, when I’m happy with what I’ve written, when I can spend a bit of time on things – on days like this, I remember all the reasons why I want to write, and why I love doing it. On days like this, I remember how lucky I truly am, and I resolve, once again, to keep writing.