I have no business writing a blog at all. Last night I wrote 5 000 words of my revised chapter and only 200 words make sense. This is fairly usual, so it doesn’t bother me that much. The writing life is not 90% hard work and 10% inspiration, it is 75% substandard writing and rejection and 5% getting better and the rest is up to the publisher’s whims.
But I do know my first thought is rarely my best or most original idea. When I put that last full stop to the draft of a blog post, I go and have a cup of green tea and then come back and read what I wrote in the flush of genius or impulsive emotion. Then I cut out the over-disclosure and innuendos and that odd little whine of self-pity. Professional writing takes even more forethought: there I prune out most of what I like because my fondness for certain phrases or adjectives signals that there is something jejeune and indulgent going on.
But inevitably something awful and unnoticed creeps into print and there are certain articles and short stories I cannot think about without wincing. So the opportunity to rewwrite is a tough blessing in disguise.
The sky is black and lowering. Will we be able to eat in the garden? Is there enough salad for four people? Should I add some more potatoes? I am dashing out to a farmers’ market and the menu may change if I find tiny broad beans or new scarlet runner beans or fresh rainbow trout.
Earlier this morning I sat up in bed rereading one of my favourite novels, A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz whom I hope wins the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Nobel committee are as quirkily perverse as small puppies or eccentric spinsters, so I doubt Oz will be honoured. But his account of growing up in Jerusalem during the last years of the British mandate in Israel is a funny, nostalgic and heartbreaking achievement. My bedroom looks out on a drive surrounded by flowering bushes of poinsettia, ornamental ginger and bougainvillea — I can see the tops of the fruiting loquat tree and an old spindly jacaranda, a bright green leafy branch or two of the pin oak at the corner of the drive. I sit up in bed reading and pausing to gaze dreamily out of the window.
Yet as I read Oz describing his mother’s home in Eastern Europe, I look out of the window and imagine different bushes, different trees. And I see again my old family home on the highlands forest reserve with the dark lines of pine forest and the wild tall ferns, fiddlehead and tree fern, that bordered the lawns. Jungly mountains beyond, the sound of a crashing waterfall somewhere just out of sight. In sobriety I retrieve a wholeness and balance to old memories because that past coloured by grievance has altered. It is rather like unpacking a suitcase and paging through photo albums or unfolding baby clothes. Yes, I am there as the child on the far left, in a school hat and gingham, but it is no longer all about me. There is the long shadow cast by incest, violence, alcoholism — but there is a smiling cousin playing with a large German shepherd and a gifted family, troubled but musical, booklovers sneaking off to find a quiet place to read, younger siblings in ugly handed-down cotton shirts and Clarke’s shoes in patent leather with silver buckles. There is the old Landrover with cracked windows and a two-way radio. My little brother who died so violently is clambering onto a tractor, shouting at us to watch him barefoot and scrambling, grinning from ear to ear. The patina of light and dark, chiarascuro.
Piecing together the forgotten years, in gratitude. But now I must get back to work…